EARLIER in May, the World Health Organization (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 Ministry of Health (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 RM12.88bil.
Equivalent to about 1% of Malaysia’s Gross Domestic Product, these losses are not only caused by the medical bills but also time off work due to illnesses, decreased productivity, early retirement and even premature death in the workforce.
Besides economic losses to the country, NCDs also threaten the sustainability of social security funds in the country.
Since 2013, we observed that more than 40% of the total invalidity pension and 42.4% of the total survivors' pension are disbursed due to NCD cases.
Last year, over 23,174 cases of invalidity and death due to NCDs were reported to Social Security Organisation (PERKESO), which also translates, on average, to about 63 workers reported to be unable to work anymore or had died because of NCDs daily.
Considering that NCDs also causes chronic morbid conditions among workers such as end-stage renal failure, cerebrovascular diseases and limb loss, PERKESO 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 RM1.1mil in 1999 when PERKESO had started the benefit, to about RM342mil 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 to falling into poverty due to NCDs.
Therefore, I personally believe that investing in worker’s 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% of the screened workers were found to be obese, 14.1% had diabetes, 27.9% were identified with high blood pressure and 61.2% 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 the mindsets of workers towards prevention for their wellbeing.
For these purposes, PERKESO introduced 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 into 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 Belanjawan 2023.
I am looking forward to seeing all workers seize this precious opportunity to reassess their health and enhance their involvement in programmes aimed at preventing NCDs.
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.
Dr Mohammed Azman Aziz is the chief executive officer for PERKESO.