Thursday, December 18, 2008

Brain drain and now the heart too?

I have a friend (“E”), whom I have known since we were 13 years old. E is probably one of the most intelligent women I know, a consistent straight A student. When we were 15, she received the ASEAN scholarship and went on to study in Singapore. As soon as she completed her A-Level examination, she received another scholarship from a government agency in Malaysia to study medicine in the United Kingdom.

Thirteen years later, E is still in England, working in a hospital in London and training to be a cardiac surgeon. In a way, I am proud to know someone as brilliant as E and we often try to persuade E to return home since Malaysia is in desperate need of more medical experts of her calibre. Sadly, her response is that the country lacks incentives and professional motivations.

Malaysia is stuck in a quagmire, in its attempt to entice local foreign graduates to return home. It has no one to blame but itself, considering the fact that the national economic policy of Bumiputera special privileges has a lot to do with it. As many non-Bumiputeras are being deprived of equal opportunity to study in local universities, they are forced to further their studies overseas.

Once there, they have the sweet taste of knowing that it is merit and not skin colour, which will be highly valued in the job market. In addition to that, many feel that a local salary will not be able to compensate for the amount of university fees already paid by their parents.

Today, I read on the news that the Malaysian National Heart Institute (IJN), one of the leading medical heart centres in the region, will be privatised. IJN, currently owned by the Ministry of Finance, has held a reputable record in serving high quality medical services to disadvantaged people. Although the Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak has assured the public that the government will continue to ensure that the centre will not marginalised the poor, many have raised concern as to whether this will be practised in reality.

I wrote an article not too long ago (When you are rich, you can afford to be sick”) emphasising the profit-making orientation of private hospitals in Malaysia. Now, I can’t help but raise the question of “when you are sick, can you afford this kind of kick?”

It is bad enough that we do not have sufficient first-class doctors and surgeons, now the government is giving away the only one institute which seems to have served its purpose well, to a bunch of capitalistic vultures, waiting to feed on sick but “juicy” people.

In matters of the heart, is it wise for the government to make such a decision? Perhaps, time can tell and let’s hope that it will continue to heal as well.

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