Ironing out maids’ health issues


PETALING JAYA: Source countries must do more thorough health checks on domestic maids heading to Malaysia in light of the rising number of tuberculosis (TB) cases in this country, say employers and health experts.

More rigorous pre-departure health screenings will ensure that the maids, who will be living in local households, are truly free from communicable diseases or other medical conditions such as heart problems, they said.

The mental health of domestic maids is another aspect employers want authorities in source countries to check before allowing them to come to Malaysia.

This is to ensure that employers are not burdened later with having to manage hires suffering from mental health issues.

Two employers who shared their experiences said they were shocked when maids whom they had employed for several years were found to have mental health issues.

“The matter must be dealt with in the source country and not after they arrive here.

“It is unfair for an employer after paying so much to end up with a maid who is mentally unstable,” said an employer here.

“It is unfair not only to the employer but also to the particular maid, who may not be aware of having a serious health issue.

“This issue must be addressed by health authorities here and, more importantly, in the source countries,” said another employer from Klang.

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Malaysia recorded 26,781 TB cases last year (2023) – a 5.47% increase from the 25,391 cases reported in 2022.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad said on May 12 that a total of 8,856 TB cases have been recorded nationwide this year.

Dzulkefly said his ministry was aware that some cases involved foreigners who entered the country illegally.

The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) said it supported the call for more stringent pre-departure health checks.

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MMA president Dr Azizan Abdul Aziz said there was also a challenge in addressing health conditions of illegal or undocumented migrants.

“Since this group lacks medical records, their health status remains largely unknown,” she said.

Prof Dr Sharifa Ezat Wan Puteh of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia suggested that foreign workers be sent to quarantine centres while waiting for the results of their screening or when the results are ambiguous.

This would reduce the transmission rate of any potential diseases before they are sent to their places of employment, she said.

Public health expert Datuk Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar said authorities must continue to monitor the quality of screening done by local and foreign health providers.

He also suggested that local employers must send their domestic helpers for another screening to ensure that they are in good health.

The Health Ministry said it was prepared to recommend that domestic maids undergo more stringent medical examinations in their source country if the need arises.

“If the ministry identifies gaps or deficiencies in the health checks conducted in the source countries, it may recommend improvements to ensure that foreign workers entering Malaysia are in good health and free from communicable diseases.

“These recommendations could include expanding the scope of health checks, implementing stricter protocols, or enhancing the quality assurance processes within the source country’s healthcare system,” the ministry said in a statement to The Star.

The ministry said the existing Fomema health screening format had been tightened since Dec 16, 2023, with the inclusion of three additional tests for hepatitis C, filariasis and a urine test for methamphetamine.

“These additional screenings help ensure that foreign workers entering Malaysia are in good health and free from communicable diseases that could pose a risk to public health,” the ministry said.

The ministry said it was monitoring statistics on the screening of foreign workers by Fomema.

Data on the outcome of the screening – either fit or unfit to work – is available for the listed diseases.

“However, this data should be treated with caution since it’s only a screening test and not confirmatory.

“We continuously work with Fomema to improve the quality of data collection and analysis to better understand and address health risks among foreign workers,” it added.

Fomema announced on Jan 3 that all foreign workers must undergo mandatory health screenings annually in Malaysia.

Previously, such workers would have to go for medical examinations for the first three years, followed by screenings every other year.

Fomema implements Category One and Two medical screenings.

Category One refers to individuals deemed unsuitable for employment in Malaysia.

Diseases under this category are TB, Viral Hepatitis B, Viral Hepatitis C, syphilis, HIV, malaria, filariasis, leprosy, psychiatric illness, epilepsy and cancer.

Category Two refers to those with incurable or chronic diseases or conditions necessitating extensive treatment. These workers may be deemed unsuitable for employment in Malaysia.

Diseases in this category are hypertension, heart disease, bronchial asthma, diabetes, peptic ulcer and kidney disease, among others.

The health screening format was further tightened in December last year, when three new tests for Hepatitis C, filariasis and urine testing for methamphetamine were introduced.

Currently, the Immigration Department only allows recruiting foreign domestic maids aged between 21 and 45 from Indonesia, Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, India, Sri Lanka and Nepal.

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