Sunday, May 25, 2008

MEDICAL SCREENING is very wrong & should be STOPPED immediately

Can a worker be compelled to undergo medical tests to prove that he/she does not HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B, Sexually related diseases, etc... before he/she be allowed to be employed? I do not think so -- and surely it is very very WRONG to do so..

So, why is it being done to MIGRANT WORKERS?

What diseases I do have or do not have, and definitely my medical records is PERSONAL and private - and nobody should have access to it - certainly not my employer.

The only thing that an employer need know, is whether I do have the necessary skills and capabilities to carry out my job function/s. That is all. If my employer terminates me because I have been tested positive for some sexually transmitted disease OR even HIV aids, it is totally unacceptable and unjust.

This practice of "medical screening" of migrant workers is HIGHLY DISCRIMINATORY - and the returning of worker to his home country (or the refusing to renew one's permit) because he has been tested positive for some disease is also totally unacceptable. This practice need to be put to an END.

Some argue that it is necessary to prevent diseases from entering the country through these foreigners - Not rationalle and definitely unacceptable.

For then, I must ask why are we also not doing the same medical screening for the millions of tourist that come through our borders every year?, to those corporate personalities that come to Malaysia?, or even them foreign diplomats that comes through our borders, some from where the incidences of TB,etc is very high?. Were those who came to Malaysia to participate in international events screened first for HIV, sexually transmitted disease, Hepatitis B, etc before entry is given? Are local workers being subjected to medical screening?

The answer is "NO" for all of the above, save for MIGRANT WORKERS, and that makes it very very WRONG.

I am sure the Malaysian AIDS Council, PT Foundation and many other civil rights groups would also not accept this unnecessary "medical screening" of migrant workers -- and definitely not the "sending back" and/or the "non-renewal of work permits" because the tests came back showing that the worker is now POSITIVE for some disease.

I believe these compulsory medical tests/screening are just means and ways to make PROFITs from migrant workers, and/or their employers.

NOW, they are screening migrant workers - but are they also screening the employers as well. After all, diseases can be "transmitted" both ways.

Maybe, all potential employers and their families who wish to employ a domestic worker should also be similarly screen to ensure that they too have a "clean bill of health" -- for after all diseases can be transmitted both ways....

Come to think about it, maybe even all public servants, Members of Parliament, State Legislative Members, Datuk Michael Chong, people who sell things in the marlet and shops, and...maybe everybody could also be sent for compulsory medical screenings --- and then all those with HIV/AIDs, TB , hepatitis B, syphilis. psychiatric problems.... could all be isolated to some "island" so that the rest of us HEALTHY Malaysia could be save....

This suggestion is ABSURD -- and as such, then all medical screening of workers should also be STOPPED.

Wonder how many workers were terminated prematurely because some medical test showed that they had HIV/AIDs, TB , hepatitis B, syphilis, some psychiatric problems, etc.... and how many also did not get their permits renewed by reason of some subsequent medical test showed that they had HIV/AIDs, TB , hepatitis B, syphilis. psychiatric problems.... SURELY they would have a right to claim adequate compensation for the injustice that has be-fallen them...Further, in their cases, it can also be argued that they were infected here in Malaysia..

*** This was the main story in the NST. The main article and several other related articles are attached here below.


Families should send their maids for a second medical check-up.
Families should send their maids for a second medical check-up.

They are here to take care of our children and elderly parents, to cook and to clean. But some of these foreign domestic help may be doing us more harm than good, write P. SELVARANI and AUDREY VIJAINDREN.

Datuk Dr Ramlee Rahmat says Fomema is stringent in its medical examination.
Datuk Dr Ramlee Rahmat says Fomema is stringent in its medical examination.
YOU may think your maid's doing a great job caring for your children or aged parents.

But have you had a good look at her? Perhaps you should. In fact, it may be to your benefit to take her for a medical check-up.

This is because thousands of domestic maids are among the 42,000 foreign workers who entered the country last year with a host of diseases.

Ministry of Health statistics show that the workers had TB (16,697), hepatitis B (10,953) and syphilis (2,824).
Those who had HIV/AIDS numbered 683 while 147 were found to be suffering from psychiatric problems.

In addition, 2,329 workers were found to be pregnant.

Some 1.36 million legal foreign workers sought employment in Malaysia last year.

Dr Ramlee said the cases were detected through the Fomema medical screening, which all foreign workers have to undergo within a month of their arrival in Malaysia.

The screening was introduced three years ago after health officials here discovered that many foreign workers had infectious diseases although they had been declared medically fit by health authorities in their country.

But a number of these workers, especially maids, were also certified as disease-free by the Mal-aysian authorities.

The actual figure cannot be determined as no one is keeping track but complaints from employers are on the rise.

In fact, there is an increasing trend of employers sending maids for second-opinion medical tests because they do not trust the screening done in the country of origin and by Malaysian authorities.

Industry sources say that despite "stringent screening" by Fomema, the independent agency appointed by the government to monitor and supervise the mandatory health-screening programme, many unfit foreign workers continue to work here.

A doctor who spoke on condition of anonymity said some Fomema panel doctors were "certifying" foreign workers as fit without even physically examining them.

"Many employers, especially those in the manufacturing sector, do not want to suffer losses.

"If they bring in 60 workers and 20 of them are found to be medically unfit, they are not going to send the 20 back.

"They will work their way around the situation to obtain the medical clearance.

"I have seen foreign workers who were declared medically unfit working in some of these places."

He said some clinics approved medical reports for a fee.

"This is why we have so many cases of infectious diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis, which had been eradicated or reduced decades ago."

He said some Fomema-appointed labs were not doing the tests properly.

Another source said some employment agencies were making matters worse by "recycling" unfit workers instead of sending them back to their home country.

Health Ministry deputy director-general Datuk Dr Ramlee Rahmat said action would be taken against any doctor found to have falsified medical results.

He said 39 of the 3,432 Fomema panel clinics were suspended last year for various reasons, including the failure of doctors to examine foreign workers in their clinics and to verify the identity of foreign workers.

"We are not as worried about the legal foreign workers in the country as we are over the thousands of illegal workers here who may be carrying these highly-infectious diseases."

Dr Ramlee said there was little chance of medically-unfit legal workers gaining legal entry into the country now because of Fomema's strict entry requirements.

"Even if they present falsified documents from their host country, our medical tests here will detect them."

However, he said, Fomema tests did not include screening for diseases such as herpes and hepatitis A and C.

"If it's a case of non-sexually transmitted herpes or hepatitis which is not contagious, we do not include them in the compulsory medical check.

"We don't look for these because they are not infectious.

"Our concern is more for the population at large and not just an individual employer or worker," he said in response to the plight of employers who were saddled with medically-unfit maids.

The Malaysian Association of Foreign Maid Agencies said that although there were many rules in place, the qualification of panel doctors overseas was suspect.

Association vice-president Jeffrey Foo said: "There may be a lot of (deception) going on overseas."

Dr Ramlee said before 2005, the ministry and its counterparts in Indonesia would accredit designated clinics in the republic to conduct medical tests for those applying to work in Malaysia.

"We randomly tested the workers at the point of entry and found that up to four per cent of the 10 per cent whom we tested did not pass our medical screening.

"But we could not act against their clinics for giving them the go-ahead."

As a result, the ministry introduced a new system where every foreign worker had to undergo a second medical test within one month of entering the country. This test is repeated at the end of their first and second years of service.

"This has helped to weed out the problem of forged medical documents."

Under this screening system, which is done at Fomema-appointed clinics, the worker is tested for infectious diseases such as HIV, TB and hepatitis. They are also screened for hypertension, heart disease, asthma and diabetes.

Dr Ramlee said Fomema was stringent in its medical examination and would not accept any foreign worker who had even the slightest hint of carrying a highly-infectious disease.

"Even someone whose X-ray screenings reveal old TB scars and who does not appear to have the disease will be rejected. We cannot take chances as the disease can flare up again."


Fomema silent on grouses
SO what does Fomema have to say about the complaints?
A spokesman said it could only talk if it got the green light from the Health Ministry.

The following information taken from Fomema's website answers some questions from employers.

One reply is about inconsistent medical reports.

Fomema said doctors who were not on their panel for the foreign workers' health-screening programme may not have the criteria for certification for suitability for employment in this country.
It said a doctor may have the opinion that the worker was fit to work despite having detected the likelihood of a communicable disease.

In such cases, the benefit of the doubt is given to the country and not the worker.

On the possibility of tests performed on one patient by different doctors yielding conflicting results, Fomema said this could happen when X-ray findings or lab test results showed abnormalities.

In such cases, the worker's status will be amended to "unsuitable" upon investigation.

MCA wants more tests for diseases
MCA public service and complaints department head Datuk Michael Chong never fails to give this advice to maid employers: "Send your maid for an independent medical check-up as soon as you bring her home, even though she has been given a clean bill of health by the authorities."
Chong's department has received three complaints of medically-unfit maids this year.

Last year, the department received four complaints, one of which was about a maid who was found to have lupus eight months after she had started work here.

(Systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE is a chronic auto-immune disease that can be fatal.

It attacks the body's cells and tissue, resulting in inflammation and tissue damage.)
In most of the other cases, the maids were reported to have herpes or hepatitis.

"I don't understand why this happens.

"The medical report from the source country says the maids are medically fit and then they are also cleared by Fomema.

"But when their employers send them for an independent test, they are found to be carrying diseases which should have been detected during these tests.

"So, how do these cases escape their attention?

"Granted, herpes may flare up now and then so it may not be that easy to detect. But what about hepatitis, TB or venereal diseases?

"That (the reports not indicating these infections) is difficult for me to accept.

"This is worrying, more so when you have maids with infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, herpes or hepatitis, caring for children or elderly folk.

"So, who do you blame? The Indonesian authorities or us?"

But Chong was generally pleased with the stringent requirements of Fomema which, he said, would not compromise on the health of the foreign workers despite appeals.

He said he had had a few run-ins with the agency over this.

"We had cases where the family was willing to retain a maid who had a previous infection or illness but Fomema was adamant about rejecting the application on the grounds that the disease could flare up."

However, he said, the fact that there were many legal foreign workers walking around with infectious diseases showed that the medical tests were not entirely fool-proof.

"To overcome this, I think the Ministry of Health should consider including tests for more diseases and ailments in the foreign workers' medical examination."

Meanwhile, the Human Resources Ministry advised employers who had problems with their maids or maid agencies to file complaints with its manpower department.

The department's deputy director-general, Sheikh Yahya Sheikh Mohamed, said in many cases, unfit maids were supplied by unlicensed agencies.

Losing your mind over their mental health

WITH more than 12 years of experience as the managing director of a maid employment agency in Subang Jaya, Selangor, Teresa Tong has learnt that mental illness can be more dangerous than physical diseases.

"Most employers ask about the physical health of a foreign domestic help, but they fail to think about the mental health of the maid they are going to get.

"There have been many cases where I have had to send back four out of five maids because they were mentally unstable. This type of illness is difficult to detect," said Tong.

Some of these maids, she said, also viewed their two-year contract in Malaysia as a jail sentence and could crack under pressure.

But in the last two years, she has seen more stringent testing by Fomema.
"Lately, Fomema has been strict with its health-screening tests. It includes psychiatric illness in its list. But a lot of times most illnesses don't flare up until much later."

Hepatitis A and C, she said, were two common diseases that employers were concerned about.

She said most foreign domestic help failed the chest X-ray examination during the Fomema screening examination.

Malaysian Association of Foreign Maid Agencies vice-president Jeffrey Foo said: "There is no full-proof system. If you ask a doctor to perform a test, you expect him to be ethical. What more can you do?"

Asked about herpes being a cause for worry among employers, Foo said: "The herpes issue has been brought up many times by the association. It is not new to us.

"We have received many complaints about this disease. But it is still not included in the health screening list. Why?

"If it is a contagious disease, it should be included in the list, unless the Ministry of Health can assure the public that herpes is not a contagious disease.

"The ministry should be protecting Malaysians."


Families paid through the nose, and now pay dearly for it
AFTER having two maids with medical problems within two months, Jason thought he would be third-time lucky.

Instead, the help turned out to be a nuisance. Her unreasonable attitude and actions led him to suspect that she was mentally unstable.

"It was the last straw for me, especially so soon after having one maid who had hepatitis C and another who had a lung infection," said the 32-year-old businessman from Puchong, Kuala Lumpur

Jason's problems began when, in anticipation of the arrival of their third child, he and his wife applied for a new domestic maid early this year to replace the one who was leaving.

"When the first maid arrived on March 4, we were happy with her until we received a call from the agency five days later saying that she had failed her medical test because she had hepatitis C."
The agency offered to replace the maid with another and Jason picked up the second maid on March 10.

"We had her for about three weeks when we noticed that she tired easily. She would turn pale after doing heavy chores and even her breathing was laboured."

He took the maid for a second medical test, although she had been given a clean bill of health by the authorities.

The X-ray revealed that she had a lung infection and half her lungs were badly scarred.

"The doctor told me that there was an old and new infection. How could this have gone undetected, considering the maid had supposedly had an X-ray taken in Indonesia and another one here?"

Jason's woes got worse when the third maid began to act up, causing much distress to his wife who was eight months pregnant.

"We are now without a maid and I feel so cheated because we have been given one problematic maid after another despite paying so much for these maids."

Ong, also of Puchong, was just as unlucky. His two maids tested positive for herpes.

The first maid arrived in October, after being certified medically fit by the Indonesian authorities and Fomema.

To be doubly sure, Ong sent her for an independent blood test and X-ray. The results showed she had herpes types 1 and 2.

"I informed the maid agency and wrote to Fomema in November highlighting the discrepancy in the medical report.

"Fomema said she was medically unfit and the agency agreed to give me a replacement maid."

When the second maid arrived in February, Ong sent her for a medical test.

She also tested positive for herpes type 1. Ong sent her for a second test, this time at a private hospital. This time, the result for herpes type 1 was negative.

Ong sent the maid for a third test at a private lab and the result was again positive.

"But what was frustrating was that the maid agency initially said it could not replace the maid or ensure that any future maid I got would be free of herpes."

The Malaysian Association of Foreign Maid Agencies could not give Ong an assurance about the medical condition of foreign maids who come to Malaysia.

"I do not understand why the authorities cannot include all classification of herpes and other medical problems in the health screening."

Ong has now opted to hire a baby sitter for his children.

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