WITH reference to the report on Deputy Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahaya saying that the Government planned to have only female doctors deliver babies in public hospitals, we, several past presidents of the Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society of Malaysia (OGSM), would like to state our opinion that this move will be a major step backwards in the progress of maternity and neonatal safety in Malaysia.
Every year, about 250 mothers in Malaysia die during childbirth. There are various strategies in place to further reduce this number in a concerted effort by the various stakeholders including the Health Ministry and the OGSM.
Childbirth is more than an experience. It is a carefully planned process involving multi-professional teamwork that results in a safe outcome for both mother and baby. Any disruption to this process will put the mother and baby at risk.
OGSM has a membership of over 1,000 doctors, both women and men, who have worked tirelessly over its 50-year history at improving the safety of childbirth in Malaysia. Through the effort of these doctors and the numerous midwives and other health care professionals, maternal mortality (number of mothers dying during pregnancy, childbirth and six weeks after) has reduced over the years to what it is today, a shining example to this region in Asia.
What the Deputy Health Minister has suggested, we believe, is in response to a minority of women and their husbands who have demanded (much like the anti-vaccine groups and the unassisted homebirth groups) that women in labour should only be looked after and examined by another woman, be it a doctor or a midwife.
We believe that there is a dangerous move now to agree to “unreasonable demands by patients” in lieu of “safety of patients”; the demand that women in labour should have a “satisfactory experience” rather than a “safe journey”; and the demand that their personal wishes that do not contribute in any way to safety should be listened to and complied with rather than complying to the routine practices and guidelines in a labour room.
Our hospitals are not only a service centre treating the many patients who arrive at their door steps but also an important training ground for younger doctors and nurses. Should we now say that all male doctors are not allowed to deliver babies? Then what happens when they are sent to district hospitals where they may be the sole O&G specialist? What happens then if there is an obstetrics emergency like a caesarean birth? Should the assistant be female too?
And what if a woman does not want her husband to be treated by a female health care professional?
Over the years, men and women doctors and health care professionals have worked in O&G harmoniously. We have learnt from each other and each contributes in his/her own unique way to the health and safety of our mothers who are in labour. Women have served as doctors, nurses and midwives (bidan) while men have dedicated themselves to the same cause, performing deliveries late into the night, just so our mothers can be well to return to their homes with their newborn. Should all their contributions be sidelined now?
Any pregnant woman in labour should be attended to by the appropriate health care professional based on the case and the arrangements by the labour room. At risk cases should be attended to by the appropriate doctor, be it a male or female doctor. Patients’ demands of only female doctors cannot be agreed to.
Medical professionals are sworn to provide the best care regardless of creed, race or gender. The same should apply to women seeking maternity care. We believe that provision of maternity care, just like any other health care, should be multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-religious and certainly not gender biased. The attempt to exclude men from the care of our women in labour is a step in the wrong direction, and is guaranteed to result in more women and babies dying in pregnancy.
We urge the Health Ministry to reconsider this move.
DR TANG BOON NEE (author)
DATUK DR ALEX MATHEWS
DR SHEIK JOHARI BUX
DR RAMAN SUBRAMANIAM
DR GUNASEGARAN PT RAJAN
DATUK DR AZIZ YAHYA
DR MOHD HAFETZ AHMAD
PROF DR JAMIYAH HASSAN
DR MILTON LUM
DR KRISHNA KUMAR
DR SURESH KUMARASAMY
DR SHANKAR SAMMANTHAMURTHY
DR BASKARAN ARUNASALAM PILLAY
PROF DR MUHAMMAD ABDUL JAMIL BIN YASSIN
DR SEVELLARAJA SUPERMANIAM
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