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AUGUST 16 saw the resignation of prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin and his cabinet, including health minister Adham Baba. Amid the political drama, we have to be reminded that Malaysia has recorded almost 1.5 million Covid cases and more than 12,000 deaths from infection.
Although areas with high vaccination rates such as the Klang Valley have started to show declining rates of infection and death, Malaysia is not out of the woods. Our healthcare system is still under great pressure.
A nationwide strike among government medical contract doctors on July 26 exposed the “dark side” of the contract doctor profession in Malaysia. Introduced in 2016, the contract healthcare workers’ system was meant to limit housemanships and provisionally registered pharmacists due to excessive supply of medical and pharmacy graduates. A new contract imposed on junior healthcare workers, especially doctors has led to an unprecedented dispute. The key issue is the unfair contract system, which creates uncertainties in job security. Holding a contract status is limiting their options and the government is well apprised of how this is detrimental to their career progress. Such limited employment prospects represent a threat to doctors’ wellbeing. The situation leads to workers’ attrition and brain drain in the long run.
The Malaysian Medical Association in August reported that 400 contract doctors had resigned since January. In addition, a study by the World Bank reveals that one in 10 skilled Malaysians choose to leave the country and the number is growing. Malaysia will lose more talents, especially doctors, if such issues as discrimination in employment are not being properly addressed. Approximately 10% of healthcare workers will leave the public sector to serve in the private sector or move abroad, especially to neighbouring Singapore.
Malaysia is not alone in facing a healthcare workers’ employment crisis which has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Globally, doctors have been feeling the pinch in which their working conditions deteriorated while their workloads increased tremendously. The Doctors’ Association UK, for example, has called for a strike due to a minimal 3% increment in doctors’ salaries in a country that with a 3.7% inflation rate. The increment also excludes junior doctors who make up the majority of the National Health Service workers.
In Nigeria, doctors have been on an indefinite strike beginning August 2 to protest the ill-treatment of medical professionals who work under immense pressure with little resources and support in the fight against Covid-19. In August, South Korean doctor went on strike to oppose medical reform planned by the government, which includes increasing the number of medical graduates instead of improving the existing working conditions for doctors and encouraging more doctors to move out of the capital city. This shows that medical workers constantly face detrimental working conditions in a challenging and competitive environment.