Health Ministry hopes for bigger budget to improve preventive, primary care

Loghun Kumaran
Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye inspects a piece of equipment during the 2018 Neonatal Cardio Respiratory Conference at the KPJ Ipoh Specialist Hospital August 17, 2018. — Picture by Razak Ghazali

IPOH, Aug 17 — The Health Ministry is hoping for a higher allocation in the coming Budget 2019 so it can improve the standards of primary and preventive health care in the country.

Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye said the ministry plans to focus on these areas, as they had been neglected over the years.

“What we want and whether they (the Finance Ministry) will give it, is two different things. But lots and lots of resources have been spent on curative care (health care which treats patients with the intent of curing them),” he told a press conference after opening the 2018 Neonatal Cardio Respiratory Conference, which was held in KPJ Ipoh Specialist Hospital today.

“Lots of money has been spent on treating the sick, and not enough has been spent to keep people healthy. We need to spend more to prevent people from falling sick.”

While Dr Lee declined to elaborate on exactly how much the ministry was hoping for, Lee said the current expenses of the private and public health sectors came to around 4.5 per cent of the current Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

He said the government had pledged to increase this figure to around 6 to 7 per cent in its’ long-term plans.

“But the money must be spent properly. If not, it could cause inflation and the extra money will be meaningless.

“If there is extra money, we will probably spend more to protect the poor and for primary care. We will look at new areas instead of expanding existing areas which could cause inflation.

“But again, it depends whether the Finance Ministry will allow it,” Dr Lee said.

Dr Lee also said the ministry would focus on providing the primary care for the lower income and lower-middle income groups.

“This will include programmes encouraging these groups to go for health screenings like hypertension, diabetes and basic blood screening.”

On a separate matter, Dr Lee said the soda tax idea suggested by Damansara MP Tony Pua — who is also special officer to Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng was not a new one.

He explained that the idea had been discussed before, but noted that it had been met with resistance from industry players.

“They wanted to maintain the current sugar levels in beverages because they said the beverages would taste different. We will need to convince the industry players to accept the idea and discussions are ongoing.

“At the end of the day, the decision has to be made by the Cabinet,” he said.

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