Monday June 22, 2009
Return of diseases linked to foreign workers
PUTRAJAYA: Infectious diseases like tuberculosis and leprosy which almost disappeared in Malaysia since two decades ago have made a comeback and this can be traced to the millions of foreign workers and illegal immigrants in the country.
There were 16,325 confirmed cases of tuberculosis (14,275 Malaysians and 2,050 foreigners) last year, second only to dengue fever with 17,047 confirmed cases.
Of the 152 confirmed leprosy cases last year, 99 were Malaysians and 53 foreigners.
The two diseases are among the 27 infectious diseases in the Health Ministry’s radar.
Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said the rising incidence of tuberculosis could be attributed to, among others, foreign workers and illegal immigrants.
“A total of 10,517 foreign workers failed to get their work permits last year because they had tuberculosis. They made up 28% of the 37,503 who were declared unfit for work permits that year,” Liow told The Star.
But what worries him is the estimated one million or more illegal immigrants – often referred to as “illegal foreign workers” – in the country.
“What we (ministry) are concerned about are the infectious diseases among the illegals which may serve as a hidden source of infection to our local population.
“It can be any type of disease – the existing ones, new ones or even those already wiped out in Malaysia,” he lamented.
Liow pointed out that disease transmission could get out of hand when foreign workers mingled with illegal immigrants.
Although the authorities were monitoring the situation, Liow urged employers to ensure that their foreign workers sought early treatment if they were unwell.
He also reminded them to provide the foreign workers with decent housing and give them adequate rest.
There are an estimated one million illegal immigrants in Malaysia, mostly Indonesians, Filipinos, Bangladeshis, Myanmars and Indians, but many believe the numbers may be higher.
There were 74,134 cases of confirmed infectious diseases in Malaysia last year. Of these, 68,424 were Malaysians and 5,710 foreigners.
And 2,050 or 36% of the 5,710 foreigners had tuberculosis.
Liow said between 7.2% and 8.1% of notified cases of infectious diseases between 2005 and 2008 involved foreigners.