Malaysia: Inadequate health care for prisoners

May 31, 2017


The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) has revealed that the right to health care in Malaysian prisons is still lacking. Recently, Suhakam conducted a nationwide survey on the right to health in prison, in which over 6,400 randomly selected individuals (5,482 prisoners, 886 prison staff, and 52 prison medical staff) from 18 prisons in Malaysia participated.

suhakamAmong other things, the survey report notes that Malaysian prison health services are yet to be fully integrated into the national public health service, meaning that the responsibility for prison health and medical services has not yet been transferred from the home ministry to the health ministry.

According to the report, “the main objective of such a move is to ensure that prisoners would receive the same health services as the general population with all expenses for primary health being covered by the health ministry.”

Lack of well-trained staff

One of the main problems outlined by Suhakam in the report is the lack of medical staff: “Although prisons in Malaysia sought to improve the delivery of healthcare by appointing ‘panel doctors’, the number of doctors placed at the prisons was severely disproportionate to the number of prisoners. For instance, in a prison with 4,612 prisoners, only two doctors were available. Also of concern is the lack of female doctors to treat female prisoners.”

Further, Suhakam found that most prison doctors have not adequately been trained to do the work they face because they were only trained in the delivery of primary health care, and lack sufficient experience in diagnosing and treating communicable diseases, drug abuse and mental health problems. The failure to employ sufficient and qualified doctors in prisons would mean that health problems may be left unattended.

Dual loyalty

Another issue Suhakam points out in the report is the conflicting “dual loyalty” that prison doctors have to their patients (prisoners) and as subordinates to the prison director.

“If the prison doctor serves dual roles, functioning as both medical specialist and at the same time is directly subordinated to the prison director rather than being part of a civil healthcare structure, he or she will have a very difficult and sensitive role to fulfill. In terms of medical ethics, doctors should never be involved in security or disciplinary matters of any kind.”

Source: “Prisoners’ access to healthcare and quality of care is bad, says Suhakam.” FMT News, 30 May 2017

Download the report (PDF)