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Promoting A Healthy Workforce In Malaysia

By Datuk Seri Dr Mohammed Azman Aziz Mohammed

EARLIER in May, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that Covid-19 is no longer considered a public health emergency.

But, the pandemic had shed light and imprinted a bad memory for us: our healthcare system is vulnerable to crisis, and it has severe implications on the overall economy.

Even now, the prevalence of underlying public health challenges such as non-communicable diseases (NCD) among the working population remains as a structural threat towards Malaysia’s wellbeing and productivity.

The Health Ministry (MoH) reported that the three most common NCDs — cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes alone — were responsible for losses to the national economy, which is estimated to be as high as RM12.88 billion.

Last year, over 23,174 cases of invalidity and death due to NCDs were reported to the Social Security Organisation (Perkeso), which also translates to — on average — about 63 workers reported to be unable to work anymore or had died because of NCDs daily.

Considering that NCDs also cause chronic morbid conditions among workers such as end stage renal failure, cerebrovascular diseases, and limb loss, Perkeso also provides rehabilitation and dialysis facilities to promote workers returning to work.

However, the annual commitment for dialysis facilities alone have grown by more than 300-fold from only RM1.1 million in 1999 when Perkeso had started the benefit, to about RM342 million in 2022.

The figures are alarming because they also represent the increasing number of households struggling to make ends meet due to sickness or death of a breadwinner. In fact, those in Malaysia who are not protected by any safety net are even more vulnerable of falling into poverty due to NCDs.

Therefore, I personally believe that investing in workers’ health goes a long way towards safeguarding the economy and promoting a productive labour supply.

Since many NCDs are preventable through better health management, I spearheaded Perkeso to take proactive measures in controlling NCDs among workers.

In 2013, we launched a flagship programme, the Perkeso Health Screening Programme to promote health awareness and initiate early interventions if required.

To date, more than 600,000 workers were screened.

From our findings in 2022, more than 42 per cent of the screened workers were found to be obese, 14.1 per cent had diabetes, 27.91 per cent were identified with high blood pressure, and 61.2 per cent with high cholesterol.

Reflecting on these striking trends, Perkeso is scaling up its investments in health promotion, working with the government to advocate healthy lifestyle, and shifting mindsets of workers towards prevention for their wellbeing.

For these purposes, Perkeso introduced the Vision Zero to guide employers in setting a different approach towards health, safety, and wellbeing of their workers at work.

We have also actively embarked on workplace health promotion programmes, including hosting the Activ@Work Challenge annually. These efforts are aimed at enabling and boosting physical activities among workers through their employers.

This year, I am very pleased that Perkeso will re-introduce and enhance the health screening programme (HSP 3.0) under the 2023 Budget. I am looking forward to seeing all workers seize this precious opportunity to re-assess their health and enhance their involvement in programmes aimed at preventing NCD.

To combat these chronic illnesses from crippling our economy and wellbeing, Malaysians must take greater responsibility for their health and adopt a stronger preventative stance than ever before.

Let us not forget, that if Covid-19 has taught us anything about surviving “pandemics”, it is truly — prevention is better than cure.

  • The writer is Perkeso chief executive

BacalahMalaysia Team

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