‘Standardise health screening of migrant workers’

PETALING JAYA: Foreign workers coming into Malaysia should undergo mandatory health screening in their own country that is similar to the one carried out by Fomema to strengthen the nation’s health safety net against communicable diseases, says the Association of Employment Agencies Malaysia (Papa).

Despite the requirement for pre-departure medical screening of Malaysia-bound workers, there are still cases of workers testing positive for communicable diseases when they arrive in the country, it said.

“Since the Fomema medical tests here are final, the same mandatory screening checklist of diseases should also be adopted at the source country before workers’ departure applications are allowed for processing,” said Papa vice-president Suresh Tan when contacted yesterday.

He said he personally experienced a situation where two foreign domestic workers, who had passed their health screening at the source country, failed their Fomema screening due to the presence of inactive communicable diseases.

“This could pose a dilemma for families as the maids would have moved into the homes of their employers for a week or two while waiting for their Fomema results.

“It creates unnecessary stress and worry for the families if a contagious disease is detected, especially if the maids are taking care of young children or the elderly,” he added.

Tan said both employers and local employment agencies would have to incur extra cost and time to make a fresh application for a replacement helper in such a situation.

“Some families have to wait four months for a maid but end up having to wait longer if the maid fails the Fomema screening here. We’ll have to start the application process all over again for a replacement maid.

“Some employers may get desperate and hire foreign maids illegally,” he added.

Tan said that under the previous Foreign Workers Centralised Management System, the Immigration Department would provide a list of medical centres to Malaysian embassies for employment agencies at the source countries to conduct pre-departure health screening of workers at.

He suggested that Fomema provide and ensure compliance of mandatory health screenings at accredited health facilities at the source country.

According to Fomema, a total of 6,413 cases of tuberculosis, 3,347 of Hepatitis B, 960 syphilis, 447 HIV, 22 malaria and three cases of leprosy were detected among foreign workers in the country in 2023.

On Tuesday, the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) expressed concern that there were still foreign workers testing positive for communicable diseases upon arriving here despite screening at their source countries.

Its president Dr Azizan Abdul Aziz said this may be due to a lack of compliance or a result of the involvement of middlemen in the application process.

She suggested that employers be given the freedom to choose their medical provider for the pre-departure medical screening of foreign workers.

SME Association of Malaysia president Ding Hong Sing supported the proposal by MMA, saying it would ensure that foreign workers arriving here do not have communicable diseases.

He said that currently, employers would engage a foreign worker agency locally to liaise with their counterparts to handle the necessary matters.

“Employers here will not know who the employment agents are at the source countries or the medical facilities that carry out the health screenings,” he said.

He added that local employment agencies would have to bear the cost of replacing foreign workers who fail the Fomema screening upon arrival.

Ding urged the government to reconsider the mandatory annual health screening for foreign workers, which, he said, poses a huge financial burden on small and medium enterprises and companies that have a large workforce.

He also suggested Fomema to make health screening results available to employers for record purposes.

Last December, Fomema raised the health screening fees to RM207 for males and RM217 for females.

The health screening was expanded to include three new categories, namely filariasis (roundworm), Hepatitis C and methamphetamine.

On Jan 3, Fomema announced that the fresh intake of foreign workers must undergo mandatory health screenings annually.

This rule came into force yesterday.

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