Friday, March 09, 2007

NS taking a toll on our children

Time to suspend and review its implementation

The dust had hardly settled after the National Service (NS) transport fiasco in January and another tragedy had occurred, the tragic and sudden mysterious death of another trainee ,P.Prema. Hardly 3 years into the National Service programme and we have the death of 10 trainees in different training camps throughout the country.

The majority of parents have expressed not only their unhappiness, displeasure and anger at the way the NS is being run but also their fears of losing their children in the training process. From what we are witnessing we are more and more convinced their fears are not unfounded. The government and the National Service Department must listen and take seriously their views.

Sending our children for the NS training is a very serious and major decision for parents.For many of us it has many emotional repercussions as it is the first time they are being separated from the family. It would be a grievous fault on the part of the authorities to brush aside these tragedies as minor isolated mishaps. These deaths are tragic loss to the families as in some the deceased may be the only hope for their future well being. Imagine the hopes and aspirations the parents would have had after toiling 17-18 years to bring them up only to lose them is sudden tragic deaths. Imagine the anguish of the parents who sent their children alive and well only to return dead a few weeks later.

These deaths have obviously cast doubts on the quality of the training and the safety mechanisms that are in place in the NS. Is the system professional and capable enough to carry military type of training? Has it placed undue stress on the health of the trainees? How efficient and effective are the medical examination and resuscitation facilities? How well trained,equiped and motivated are the trainers in providing the training? Have we got to sacrifice a few of our children in each session of NS? Who are next in line?

No amount of reassurance will be satisfy the parents if it does not address these issues immediately.The NS Department has a lot of soul searching to do and it must do it without any further delay. It should consider the feedback from parents and public seriously. Docility on their part will only create suspicion and doubts in the minds of the people as to the real motives of the NS program

The NS as it is implemented now should be suspended immediately and a full-scale investigation conducted into the way the trainees are recruited, medically checked and subjected to the subsequent training. This is necessary to prevent the loss of more lives in NS and restore confidence in the parents and the general public at large.

Instead of heeding the call of the people to suspend and review the NS the authorities have suggested medical check-ups for trainees and improving the medical care at the training centres.Certainly these are commendable measures but will they stop the deaths at these training facilities?

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.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 integrated training into our schools from the start.

Dr.Chris Anthony

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