Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Medical check-ups for NS trainees

Medical check-up costly and not fool-proof

It was interesting to read your report “Check-ups for NS trainees?” (Star March 6).

We welcome the setting up of a technical committee to look into health issues surrounding the National Service (NS) training programme and come up with a list of recommendations. We are also happy that Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek has taken the health status of the trainees and the health care and nutrition at the training centres very seriously. He is even considering medical check-ups for potential trainees. This is definitely a commendable act on the part of the health minister which augurs well for the well being of our children during the three month stint.

Looking at the causes of the deaths among trainees so far, they fall into 3 categories:

1. Accident and trauma. This includes drowning and severe fatal injuries.
2. Infections due to exposure of the trainees to remote areas which harbour rare strains of pathogenic micro-organisms.
3. Unknown causes. These groups of trainees are healthy to start with and under stress they succumb to sudden mysterious deaths. They could have asymptomatic congenital cardiac or vascular lesions in the brain or elsewhere. Others include epilepsy and bronchial asthma.These individuals are apparently healthy and asymptomatic under normal circumstances, only to suddenly collapse and die on strenuous physical stress.

Normal medical check-ups will never detect these abnormalities. Even sophisticated examinations like CT scan and MRI may not detect them. To detect congenital heart and cerebral lesions we may even need echocardiogram and invasive procedures like angiography. Are these really necessary?

These measures would be mere waste of tax-payers money. Basic medical check-up for a domestic maid by Fomema costs RM 190.One can imagine the huge cost that will be incurred to do this basic medical check-up for the 40,000 trainees in each batch. To this are the other added costs for transport, food, uniform, accommodation, artillery and so on.

From the results of this programme we understand that it succeeds in fostering racial unity among our children of different ethnicity during the period of training and the months that follow. In the long term it fails in its noble aim as the children soon return to a real life environment of racial segregation and animosity in universities and places of work.

The pertinent question here is whether, apart from the risks to the participants, is it cost effective to carry on with this programme of National Service when it brings no long term benefits for racial integration for which it is primarily intended. We have a much cheaper, safer and more effective way to do that – bring such training into our schools from the start.

Dr.Chris Anthony

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