Power Grant to Malaysia 
On January 12, 2023, the United States Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) provided a power grant to Malaysia. Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB), Malaysia’s state-owned energy company, received this grant to assist with the “utility’s digital transformation.” This grant will further the use of more renewable energy and aid in giving sound clean energy to about 2.5 million people, including those in neighboring countries who are also on the Borneo Grid.

“Around the world, we have seen the transformative impact of digital infrastructure on achieving ambitious clean energy, energy efficiency, and other climate-related goals. Our partnership with Sarawak Energy is intended to support their vision of sustainable growth by meeting the region’s need for reliable, renewable energy,” said Enoh T. Ebong, USTDA’s Director.

Diving into the Grant

The total contribution of the grant comes in at $1 million USD and will continue SEB’s, “aim of becoming a sustainable digital utility by 2025 and beyond.” The agreement of the grant came into effect during the fifth Indo-Pacific Business Forum in Tokyo, Japan.

During the duration of the grant, USTDA will evaluate SEB’s current digital landscape and “support the company’s strategic roadmap to enable the adoption of smart grid and digital power plant technologies, enhance efficiency, increase cyber security as well as meet growing connectivity commitment and service reliability requirements to drive sustainable economic growth in Malaysia.”

SEB chose the nonprofit group Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) to oversee the technical study of the project and provide assistance throughout the project. “SEB expresses gratitude to USTDA for this new partnership and welcomes EPRI’s technical support,” said Datu Sharbini Bin Suhaili, Group CEO of Sarawak Energy Berhad.

USTDA’s championing of the project will further the goals of both the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment. “The Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment will deliver game-changing projects to close the infrastructure gap in developing countries, strengthen the global economy and supply chains, and advance U.S. national security.”

A Brief History of EPRI

Founded in 1972 in California, EPRI operates as a not-for-profit-independent energy research company. EPRI has a presence in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. The company collaborates with more than 450 companies spanning 45 countries by “driving innovation to ensure the public has clean, safe, reliable, affordable, and equitable access to electricity across the globe.”

With regard to the USTDA providing the power grant to Malaysia, EPRI President and CEO Arshad Mansoor had this to say, “EPRI is pleased to assist Sarawak in the modernizing of its grid, as this fits with our society-based mission to ensure the public has clean, safe, reliable, affordable, and equitable access to electricity across the globe.”

Looking Forward

With the USTDA providing this power grant to Malaysia, it will not only benefit Malaysia’s renewable energy goal but it will also provide energy to millions across multiple countries who are in poverty. The goals of the grant as well as the goals of the USTDA’s other projects will see that those underserved and in need of basic needs receive proper care.

– Sean McMullen
Photo: Flickr

 Sex Education in Malaysia
According to the 2022 United Nations World Economic Situation and Prospects report, Malaysia is listed as an upper-middle-income developing country. However, a large proportion of the country’s population is still struggling with not only absolute poverty but also relative poverty as well as increasing inequalities. Those with low socioeconomic status (SES) have less access to healthcare, which increases their vulnerability to Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and other diseases. Although subjective, factors like income, financial security and educational attainment can determine SES. Economic inequality can impact STI preventative information, infection rates and treatment accessibility. This is where sex education in Malaysia can play an important role in preventing STIs and other reproductive health issues.

The Importance of Sex Education

Between April and May 2022, Durex Malaysia conducted a nationwide Sexual Health and Intimate Wellness Survey online to study Malaysian youths’ knowledge of sexual health. This study surveyed more than 1,000 Malaysians between 18 and 30 years old. The survey found that Malaysian youths are engaging in more sexual relations at 35%. This is an increase from the last 2016 Durex survey which indicated 18.8%. The findings highlighted gaps and misconceptions in their understanding of STIs and women’s reproductive health. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) defines comprehensive sex education as a “rights-based and gender transformative approach” that is taught inside and outside schools. Educators teach it over several years by taking into account age-appropriate information for young people. UNFPA notes that sex education should discuss culture, gender roles, relationships, family life, human rights as well as bodily autonomy and threats such as sexual abuse and discrimination.

Engaging young people in exploratory discussions helps them to understand and develop positive values about their sexual and reproductive health and rights. Organizations like UNFPA work with governments to apply sex education through community training and outreach. It also advocates for policies and investments for internationally standardized programs. In 2018, the agency published “International technical guidance on sexuality education: an evidence-informed approach.” It acts as a tool for curriculum developers to create comprehensive sexual education curricula as UNFPA described. Schools do not have a comprehensive sexual education curriculum in Malaysia.

Sex Education in Malaysia

There was a 2011 study that analyzed schools’ coverage of sex education in Malaysia. Respondents of the study stated that the effectiveness of instruction depended on the teachers themselves. Ninety-five percent of the respondents expressed vague teaching processes regarding sex education. This is due to incomplete coverage of topics or ineffective teaching methods. Sexual education in Malaysia is most commonly delivered through biology and Islamic study classes. These classes cover physical adolescent development, reproductive development and sex in an Islamic context. Most of the criticisms regarding sex education as taught in Malaysia’s schools stemmed from the lack of a comprehensive syllabus. STIs and HIV/AIDS continue to affect many people in Malaysia.

STIs and Efforts to End HIV/AIDS

A Malaysian medical lifestyle application named Cleadoc reported that the top three common STIs in Malaysia are syphilis, gonorrhea and HIV. There were approximately 82,000 adults and children living with HIV in Malaysia as per the statistics provided by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). In 2017, UNAIDS set up “90-90-90”, an ambitious treatment target to help end the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2020. UNAIDS document mentioned achievable targets stating that 90% of people living with HIV would be aware of their HIV status by 2020. Another 90% of patients with a diagnosed HIV infection would have received sustained antiretroviral therapy by 2020. It also stated that 90% of those who were receiving antiretroviral therapy would have their viral load suppressed by 2020.

As reported in the 2021 Global AIDS Monitoring Report that the Ministry of Health Malaysia’s HIV/STI/Hepatitis C Section produced, there were more than 153,000 reported cases of HIV/AIDS in 2020. The cumulative number of deaths related to HIV/AIDS was 45,450. Malaysia’s progress toward the 90-90-90 treatment target was 87-58-85 respectively. However, organizations in Malaysia have been actively advocating to improve access to sex education.

Advocating For Access to Sex Education

UNFPA works with the Federation of Reproductive Health Associations of Malaysia (FRHAM), one of the country’s three main sexual and reproductive health (SRH) program implementation partners. This partnership focuses on hard-to-reach populations with the help of health screenings, tests, contraceptive access services and general sexual/reproductive advisement. The service-based nonprofit, FRHAM is the leading non-governmental organization (NGO) in Malaysia that also advocates for SRH. It promotes access to information and services on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). FRHAM also conducts workshops, training and exhibitions to engage with specific target groups to help develop knowledge and skills as “peer educators.” Organizations have been teaming up to improve false perceptions of SRH in Malaysia.

Steps to Improve Sex Education in Malaysia

After Durex conducted its first survey, it teamed up with the Women’s Aid Organization (WAO), FRHAM and AISEC Malaysia to help correct the false perceptions regarding SRH among young Malaysians. Alongside Durex, the government launched an awareness and education campaign in 2013 called Choose2Protect. It was the first program of its kind for youths to educate one another. They receive training on issues concerning reproductive health, including the dangers of STIs. They also receive soft skills training that allows them to share knowledge in culturally and religiously sensitive contexts. The program emphasizes the importance of remaining non-discriminatory and non-judgemental.

The results of the 2022 Sexual Health and Intimate Wellness Survey were revealed with a #COMETOGETHER campaign which promoted open conversations on sex amongst the Malaysian public. The goal was to inform the public with accurate information and help them make informed decisions. This occurred through question-and-answer social media posts, workshops at higher-educational institutions and an “A-Z Pleasure Guide” that influencers and health experts developed. Some are taking steps to address the lack of comprehensive sex education in Malaysia. Organizations like UNFPA, FRHAM, WOA, Durex and the government are working together to close the gaps.

– Aishah French
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in MalaysiaMalaysia, a country in Southeast Asia, has a population of over 33 million people with 639,000 households living in absolute poverty. Poverty rates are higher among households with children, creating a child poverty crisis in Malaysia that leaves children in hostile and dangerous situations. In response to child poverty in Malaysia, an NGO in Kuala Lumpur is actively trying to help. Dignity for Children works to educate Malaysian children to help them find a pathway out of poverty in the future.

Effects of Child Poverty in Malaysia

The coronavirus pandemic tripled the number of households living in extreme poverty in Malaysia, worsening the child poverty crisis. Currently, more than 70,000 children live in poor conditions with no access to public school with those living in rural areas being worse off. The impact of child poverty in Malaysia also has the following ripple effects:

  • Higher child marriage rates, with a minimum marriage age of 16 for girls
  • Rising HIV/AIDS rates in child orphans
  • Sexual exploitation in rural areas
  • Higher instances of child labor or trafficking
  • Rising youth employment as the youth employment rate in Malaysia is 12.4%
  • Extreme malnutrition

Dignity For Children

Dignity for Children, founded in 1998, currently educates more than 1,700 children. This is accomplished through the use of quality, hands-on education. The program uses the Montessori or the “follow-the-child” philosophy. This contrasts with the country’s education mandate, which only applies to children between the ages of 6 and 11. The program provides education for children between the ages of 2-18 through a wide range of schools such as vocational institutions, private-learning centers, international schools and religious schools.

Through its transformational enterprises, Dignity creates well-rounded schooling by combining the classroom with real-world experiences. These transformational enterprises consist of five categories: hairdressing, sewing, eateries, art and wellness. Over six months, teenagers develop their skills in the program of their choice as they work alongside experienced professionals. These children not only gain experience in their desired field, but they also learn how to become self-sufficient and run a business. The program equips students so they graduate from secondary school with an array of skills in their arson. This can be beneficial to securing a job in the future.

Moving Forward

Dignity For Children fights child poverty in Malaysia by using hands-on education to break cycles of poverty and prepare children for a prosperous future. The center continues to operate in Sentul Kuala Lumpur and other poverty-stricken schools in South East Asia to create teacher training programs and further their students’ education. As the organization gains more students, Dignity For Children continues to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves.

– Blanly Rodriguez
Photo: Flickr

MySDG Foundation
The United Nations in Malaysia and the Malaysian government have launched the MySDG Foundation and MySDG Trust Fund to combat poverty and further the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Poverty in Malaysia

The need for the government and other agencies to step up against poverty may be because of the step back Malaysia faced recently. This need is not only from normal obstacles that tend to cause economic hardship. The COVID-19 pandemic has also been one of the main struggles for Malaysia recently.

In 2019, the incidence of absolute poverty in Malaysia was 5.6%, recovering from 7.6% in 2016. However, the devastation and hardship from the pandemic caused it to increase to 8.4% in 2020.

Malaysia’s Partnership

Malaysia’s partnership with MySDG Foundation and MySDG Trust Fund has shown its commitment to the Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 which is stated as a “collective blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.” The SDG agenda could also be a strategy that changes or helps many different sectors. The agenda aims to work towards improving health care, education, security and many other topics, while also improving the environment and promoting eco-friendliness.

This new coordination showcases the “whole-of-nation,” approach among the U.N.’s great contributions to many countries and their work toward sustainable development for them. The global goal for the U.N. is for people everywhere to have peace and for poverty to end while still protecting the earth’s environment.

The Malaysian government’s work with the MySDG Foundation and other groups to combat poverty shows how cooperation and partnerships can go a long way to resolving issues. 

The Formation of the MySDG Foundation and MySDG Trust Fund

Because of the need to further the agenda, the government formed the MySDG Foundation. The aim was for the Foundation was to help the government work on improving the economy and preserving the environment and the sustainability of Malaysia’s people.

One way the MySDG Foundation aims to provide aid is through the MySDG Trust Fund. Funds will go through the Trust Fund and then undergo dispersal between the government’s SDG projects/programs. The money will also go to other participating nonprofits, civil society organizations and U.N. agencies, which also have the same SDG agenda or partnerships as the Malaysian government.

The starting funds were RM 20 Million ($4,319,187.99), kicking off this cooperation in 2021. However, the initial start date of the foundation was January 27 and listed the founder as Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

Summarized Goals by the Ministry of Finance

The Malaysian Ministry of Finance was able to summarize the objectives of the fund as targeting struggling sectors first. The Ministry stated that “It also aims to fulfill financing gaps and facilitate joint initiatives by various stakeholders to translate SDG aspirations into practical actions through effective multi-stakeholder collaboration.” The Ministry also commented on supporting the SDG agenda and not making decisions until having consultations from many levels and parts of different sectors that they are working on.

The official portal of Malaysia’s Ministry of Finance also lists those involved with the project like the Board of Trustees, explanations about the experts for the different sectors, the founders, the U.N. agency segments in the collaboration, the committees and a donation fund link that is coming soon.  

Future Outlook

The ultimate goal is to revive the Malaysian economy by having the MySDG Foundation and funds to combat poverty. The showcase of the U.N. collaboration and the opportunity for other private and public companies to help towards a common good radiates hope for the people of Malaysia and elsewhere. The sustainability the workers of this fund want for the Malaysian people will bring them out of poverty but they hope that they will be able to continue to protect the earth’s environment too.

– Marynette Holmes
Photo: Unsplash

Ethnic inequality in Malaysia
Malaysia made remarkable success fighting poverty over the past 50 years, dropping from 50% in 1970 to almost zero in 2014, in large part due to the decreased ethnic and racial differences in living standards. The road that the country laid to get there, nevertheless, has regrettably led to widespread racial or ethnic inequality and violence in Malaysia.

The Disparity in Living Standards Between Racial Groups and the 1969 Riot

Since Malaysia’s independence from Britain in 1957, the Bumiputera have maintained their status as the poorest group with the lowest average income, as a result of the British colonial heritage in contrast to the wealthier minority contingent of ethnic Chinese and Indians. After independence, the government gave emphasis on economic development, but until roughly 1970, it seems that policymakers were less concerned with ethnic inequality in Malaysia.

A Sino-Malay race riot broke out in 1969 when new opposition parties led by Malaysian Chinese gained more votes than the multiethnic Alliance party that had been in power since independence. The government’s lack of concern for the country’s pervasive ethnic injustices and the Chinese-dominated party’s win, which appeared to be further detrimental to the living condition of the Malays, were the primary motives behind the riot. Malaysia then declared an emergency and suspended Parliament for two years as a result.

Malaysia’s New Economic Policy (NEP)

The government created the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1970 as a comprehensive affirmative action strategy in response to the race riot in 1969. Many viewed addressing the enormous racial disparities in the county as essential to accomplishing both its dual goals of eradicating poverty and restructuring society. The NEP officially launched in 1971 and ran for 20 years.

In addition to intending to reduce the poverty rate from 49% to 17% in 1990, the extensive affirmative action favored the Bumiputera by ensuring that they held at least 30% of corporate wealth by that year and that all initial public offerings set aside a 30% share for Bumiputera investors. The Bumiputera were promised preferential treatment when it came to housing, employment opportunities in the public sector, company share ownership and essentially in all other possible fields. By using quotas and university scholarships, the Bumiputera received preference in access to public education.

Next, the objective of greater economic growth allowed the non-Bumiputera sector’s share of the economy to decline while, in absolute terms, allowing non-Bumiputera commercial interests to expand. This was known as the “expanding pie theory” in some circles because it predicted that the Bumiputra share of the pie would grow without the size of the non-Bumiputra pieces of the pie decreasing.

This occurred to help the Bumiputera catch up economically with other Malaysians. To assure this, Malaysia enforced ethnic restrictions on share ownership in public companies. The following eight crucial strategies served as the New Economy Policy’s main drivers.

8 Crucial Strategies that are the New Economy Policy’s Main Drivers

  1. Deciding on a definition and metric for poverty.
  2. Raising productivity and enhancing revenue diversity.
  3. Focusing on the extreme poor through a unique program tailored to their requirements and providing other suitable aid to better their circumstances.
  4. Engaging NGOs and private sector entities.
  5. Enhancing the quality of life for the poor by supplying them with social and physical facilities including roads, power, piped water and schools for the rural population.
  6. Offering welfare support to the poor who were old or crippled and hence unemployed.
  7. Maintaining stable prices, which included state interference in the markets for a limited range of foods and other necessities.
  8. Lowering or eliminating the income tax rates for low-income individuals.

The Outcome of NEP

Martin Ravallion wrote in his paper about ethnic inequality and poverty in Malaysia that this country managed ethnic inequality better than many other nations. From 0.51 in 1970 to 0.40 in 2016, the Gini index of household earnings decreased. About 25% of the decline in absolute poverty was due to lower inequality (a pro-poor shift in distribution at a given mean), and the remaining 75% was due to an increase in mean income.

From 4% in 1970 to nearly 20% in 1997, the bumiputras’ share of global wealth increased. The country’s overall wealth increased as well; the per capita GNP increased from RM1,142 in 1970 to RM12,102 in 1997.

Since 1970, the mean income of the poor Bumiputeras has grown more quickly than that of the Chinese or the Indians, but the difference in growth rates has not been sufficient to close the wide absolute differences in mean incomes between racial groups. Relative mean incomes will continue to diverge if the pattern from 1970 to 2016 holds.

Conclusion

Policies that lessen racial disparities, such as affirmative action, can further social objectives besides eradicating poverty, such as encouraging cooperation and social solidarity. The majority status of the poorest ethnic group in Malaysia led to intense political pressure to rectify racial inequity, at least after the loud voices of dissent were heard in 1969. However, it is understandable that poverty reduction in Malaysia is a key metric for gauging the success of virtually any policies, including ethnically-based redistributive initiatives, in a nation like Malaysia, where there are significant racial disparities and an official poverty rate of close to 50% in 1970. While the official poverty rate has nearly reached zero over the same time period, the government has made significant strides in its fight against poverty, although the previous official poverty level is almost probably too low by today’s standards.

– Karisma Maran
Photo: Unsplash

Elderly Poverty in Malaysia“I have heard of a friend who had six to seven children. Although some of them, husband and wife earn RM2,000- RM3,000 per month, they do not seem to offer to help their parents; at least RM200 is sufficient. But instead, they tell their mother, ‘I need RM200 from you, I want to pay for my house, my car and my children’s education.’ You have this kind of people. That is considered financial abuse.” This is a quote from a 68-year-old elder in Malaysia who participated in a study published by the ASM Science Journal. His words reflect the situation of elderly poverty in Malaysia and the intergenerational problem the society faces as the population ages. Here are three facts about elderly poverty in Malasyia.

3 Facts About Elderly Poverty in Malaysia

  1. Aging populations have few sources of income. Malaysia is a nation located in Southeast Asia and like many high-income countries, its population is rapidly aging. In fact, according to the World Bank, Malaysia will transition from its current state of an “aging” society to an “aged” society in the next two decades, going from 7% of the population being older than 65 to 14% by 2044. However, according to Dr. Soon Ting Kueh, “We feel Malaysia is not quite prepared for an aging society and hope the government will look into these problems soon.” Exacerbated by the relatively low minimum retirement age in Malaysia, only 45.2% of the population between the age of 55 and 64 has a job. Although people in this age group are more likely to be self-employed or work part-time, oftentimes, they no longer have a source of income.
  2. Financial security is harder for women. According to the World Bank, the gap in the employment rate is most obvious in the 50 to 60 age group. In Malaysia, only 17.9% of women in this demographic have a job compared to 59.7% of men. This may also be because more women are self-employed or work at home without pay. However, because of their unemployment status, women often have less coverage in terms of social insurance. One measurement of social security for the elderly in Malaysia is their Employees Provident Fund (EPF) balance, or how much money they were able to invest in a federal savings and retirement plan. According to the World Bank, men tend to have around RM233,000 ($51,260) in their EPF account compared to RM177,000 ($39,000) for women. This highlights the differences between the two groups and how financial security is harder to obtain for elderly women, which contributes to elderly poverty in Malaysia.
  3. Lack of geriatric care. Because older people are more vulnerable to diseases (chronic or not), they make up over 20% of admissions to Malaysia’s public hospitals. However, the development of geriatric care and health facilities has not kept up with the rate at which Malaysia’s population is aging. Not only is there a lack of geriatric infrastructure, but there is also a lack of community care, home care and other rehabilitation services. According to The Gerontologist, this may be because elders in Malaysia traditionally depended on the “family support system” that many Asian cultures emphasize. However, with the passage of time and modernization, these responsibilities have slowly transferred from the family to social structures, putting a large demand on public health care that is currently unavailable in this country. Coupled with the larger vulnerability to illnesses, the amount of money the elderly must pay for health care also depletes their savings and contributes to elderly poverty in Malaysia.

Making a Change

As the quote in the beginning suggests, the elderly are especially vulnerable when it comes to financial stability because, after retirement, many must financially rely on their children for income, or in some cases even fund their children’s expenditures.

Thankfully, NGOs such as The National Council of Senior Citizens Organizations Malaysia (NACSCOM) are rallying for the elderly of Malaysia. Established in 1990, NACSCOM has around 20,000 members worldwide and cooperates with the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development of Malaysia to push government action and legislation in areas such as elderly health care.

The Old Folks Home they established in 2007 currently has 20 residents, and three day centers that were established across Malaysia continuously provide learning programs for the elderly.

As the population ages, elderly poverty in Malaysia may become an even more difficult issue. Coupled with the lack of quality health care, elderly people sometimes have to engage in part-time jobs or self-employment in order to escape elderly poverty. However, with the combined efforts of NGOs and the government, geriatric infrastructure and reforms for accessible health care may not be far from the future. With this in mind, hopefully, senior citizens could soon be able to live without financial vulnerability in Malaysia.

Emilie Zhang
Photo: Unsplash

infectious-diseases-impacting-malaysia-during-covid-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has diverted the world’s attention from the spread of other infectious diseases across the globe. However, the battle of the Malaysian government against other infectious diseases has never stopped. According to Health Minister Dr. Adham Baba, despite the pandemic, efforts to prevent and control the spread of infectious diseases in Malaysia are still ongoing. In fact, as of March 2020, the government has updated The Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases (Measures within the Infected Local Areas) Regulations to better coordinate the measures it was implementing between controlling the COVID-19 pandemic and the transmission of other infectious diseases in Malaysia. Here is information about three infectious diseases impacting Malaysia as well as how the country is dealing with them.

Dengue Fever

Dengue fever has existed in Malaysia since 1902 when reports of the first case emerged. The bite of infectious mosquitoes spreads dengue fever, resulting in it affecting a large fraction of the population in Malaysia. Most affected are those living in impoverished areas because they have an abundance of stagnant water bodies that are ideal for the breeding of Aedes mosquitoes.

Surprisingly though, from January to August 2021, the Malaysian government reported only a total of 16,565 dengue cases as compared to the 63,988 cases in 2020. With an approximately 94% decrease in the total number of dengue cases across the nation, the government is optimistic about continuing and committing to the current effective measures, maintaining overall cleanliness in residential areas as well as public spaces with frequent mosquito fogging operations.

Tuberculosis (TB)

Tuberculosis (TB) is an air-borne infection affecting the lungs. Like dengue, it is also one of the most common infectious diseases primarily impacting those living under the strain of poverty in Malaysia. Overcrowded and poorly ventilated residential areas facilitate TB in low-cost flats all around Malaysia. On average, the number of cases documented throughout the nation has fluctuated and varied in its trend but up to 2019, around 92 in 100, 000 people have been diagnosed in Malaysia.

In Selangor alone, more than 3,500 cases have also been reported in 2020, making it essential for public awareness programs and governmental allocations to be implemented to mitigate the spread of this infectious disease in Malaysia. At the moment, the Malaysian Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis (MAPTB) is diligent in its efforts to educate the public on TB prevention and provide financial aids to diagnose and treat individuals from higher-risk groups. MAPTB is gradually making progress in educating the public about proper prevention methods and ultimately controlling the spread of TB in the country. Its plan is to do this through various online forums, conferences, newsletters and collaborations with Malaysian NGOs.

Hepatitis B

The Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is most commonly transmitted through infected blood products and unprotected sex. Affecting more than 1 million people nationwide, Hepatitis B causes acute and chronic liver infections particularly in male adults between the age of 30 to 49. In rural areas with little to no access to health care, the adverse environmental conditions and lack of proper treatment among the infected are exacerbating the infection rate of HBV.

With the hopes of eradicating the threat this infectious disease poses to the country, the Malaysian government has been proactively working toward a strategic and sustainable plan to combat the spread of HBV in Malaysia via the National Strategic Plan for Hepatitis B and C (NSPHBC) to strengthen national policies regarding prevention measures, control of transmission and the diagnosis, treatment and care of patients with the virus. By 2030, the government hopes to reduce the number of new viral hepatitis cases in Malaysia by 90% with proper diagnoses and treatment methods. This includes encompassing free HBV vaccination programs as well as mandated education for children and teenagers throughout the nation.

Solutions for Infectious Diseases Impacting Malaysia

In partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO), Malaysia used to receive generous financial support from countries like Japan, Denmark and Germany up until 1998. However, the country is receiving little to no direct aid to the health sector since 2000. In regards to professional and technical development, WHO remains active in providing medical fellowships and training to health care workers in Malaysia. It is also contributing invaluable advice on disease control and specialized support for disease outbreaks in the country.

Various local NGOs such as the Consumers’ Association of Penang are also supportive in their efforts to fund novel research projects aiming to create new solutions that could mitigate the spread of infectious diseases across the country better than existing strategies.

The Future

All things considered, the Malaysian government is slowly gaining a foothold in the uphill battle of preventing and controlling the spread of infectious diseases in the country. While the future remains unknown, the Ministry of Health is resilient in its implementation of more sustainable health care policies. It is also working on the development of systems to aid in the recovery of the COVID-19 pandemic in Malaysia.

With the help of WHO and several significant NGOs across the nation, it is only a matter of time before Malaysia can truly gain control over the spread of infectious diseases. The country should effectively manage diseases’ effects on the country’s politics and the economy as a whole.

Low Xin Yi
Photo: Unsplash

poverty reduction in MalaysiaEstablished in 1963, Malaysia is a small country located in Southeast Asia. Since earning its independence, Malaysia has made considerable strides in working to reduce the national poverty rate, to the point where the country is expected to gain high-income status between 2024 and 2028. With the help of the United Nations and other organizations, poverty reduction in Malaysia is slowly reaching rural areas, which still remain disproportionally plagued by poverty.

A Flailing Poverty Line

Malaysia’s economic success cannot be explained without first noting the shift in an economic system previously dependent on agriculture to one built around commodity exportation. With about 40% of its labor force working in export activities, the country’s positive attitude toward trade and investment is responsible for the upwards trajectory in job growth and income expansion. Poverty reduction in Malaysia is apparent in its revision of the poverty line, increasing from $231.27 to $521.06 in 2019. That same year, however, rural households reported earning less than $2 per day.

Reports from government officials, which detail poverty reduction in Malaysia, ignore risks that many people face every day. The most impoverished 40% consist of rural villagers, migrant workers and refugees. These people are often left out of official poverty figures and lack a social safety net. Moreover, the dramatic economic growth seen in recent years is not accurately reflected in the poverty line, which is largely inconsistent with the current income levels of Malaysians. In his report, Professor Philip Alston explains that the impoverished have benefitted in gaining universal access to basic utilities. However, things like medical care and education are widely unattainable.

In areas such as Pulau Indah, an island not far from the capital Kuala Lumpur, many citizens live alongside heaps of garbage consisting of discarded plastic waste from Western countries. Here, sanitary living conditions are hard to come by. Education levels and medical needs prohibit people from building a life elsewhere. Most are even employed at illegal factories working to burn the waste that surrounds them. This leaves them in an inescapable cycle of poverty.

Villages Struggling to Stay Afloat

Problems are exacerbated in rural areas where the distance from hospitals, schools and jobs prevents residents from obtaining help. In water villages, which are clusters of homes sitting atop the water’s surface, the communities are subject to pollution and dangerous living conditions. While poverty reduction in Malaysia targets floating villages, providing them with basic necessities is still a hurdle. Access to clean water is a major problem as towns have no way of installing sewer systems. Even safe methods of electricity for heat or cooking are unaffordable. Thus, people resort to illegally extending power lines, risking engulfing entire villages into flames.

Casting a Safety Net

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is using an innovative strategy to aid poverty reduction in Malaysia. True to its mission of caring for the environment by improving people’s quality of life, UNEP sponsored a pilot project aimed at providing sewage treatment tanks to homes and schools in floating villages. This is major for a region like Sabah, which has 10,185 floating homes. These efforts are helping nearly 50,000 people gain access to sanitary living conditions. As part of a 36-month-long project, UNEP hopes to install 200 more treatment tanks in another village. Additionally, UNEP is encouraging the establishment of a facility where local people can work to produce the tanks themselves.

A business known as Hive Bulk Foods has also made considerable efforts at drawing attention to the waste issues in Malaysia and the impact of waste on impoverished communities. Founded by Claire Sancelot, The Hive encourages sustainable living and works with local farmers to source its ingredients. It operates as one of the only no-waste stores in Kuala Lumpur.

This push toward empowering rural communities to help eliminate poverty is apparent in the Malaysian government’s work as well. Legislation such as the 12th Malaysian Plan is based around promoting economic growth and poverty reform. Key policy measures that include providing help for undocumented citizens and re-evaluating the poverty line would ensure that poverty levels continue their downward trend for good.

– Nicole Yaroslavsky
Photo: Flickr

Tackling Poverty in Malaysia
Poverty reduction in Malaysia was steadily progressing until the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The poverty rate decreased from 7.6% in 2016 to 5.6% in 2019, according to Free Malaysia Today. However, due to COVID-19, the poverty rate rose to 8.4% in 2020. Many argue that the strikingly low poverty rate is an inaccurate reflection of the true state of poverty in Malaysia as it does not account for costs of living and overlooks vulnerable populations. According to U.N. human rights specialist, Philip Alston, “Despite near-universal healthcare and high school enrolment rates for citizens and a growing economy, large parts of the population are being left behind and many people living above the official poverty line are in fact in poverty.” Due to these circumstances, several NGOs are tackling poverty in Malaysia.

Poverty in Malaysia

Alston explains that “Undercounting has also led to underinvestment in poverty reduction and an inadequate social safety net that does not meet people’s needs.” As a consequence, people’s rights to food, shelter and education are in jeopardy. Under the current circumstances, more than 2.7 million Malaysian children come from households that cannot afford the costs of school, and according to the World Bank, 15% of Malaysians experienced moderate-to-severe food insecurity in 2018. However, NGOs are rising to the challenge, attempting to close the poverty gap and end the consequences that go along with it. MyKasih and SOLS 24/7 are leaders in tackling poverty in Malaysia by providing inclusive aid to the B40 (bottom 40% household income range) community through education and food security.

MyKasih

The MyKasih Foundation was founded by Tan Sri Dr Ngau Boon Keat and his wife, Puan Sri Jean Ngau, in 2009. The organization is committed to the long-term goal of empowering the Malaysian community by providing more than just short-term relief. Its efforts in tackling poverty in Malaysia are directed into its two main programs, the Love My Neighborhood food aid program and the Love My School education bursary initiative. MyKasih’s food aid program provides impoverished households with at least RM 80 per month for only a year. This ensures people do not become aid-reliant and are empowered to become self-sufficient while being able to meet their basic needs.

By 2019, MyKasih had provided roughly 280,000 families with RM 260 million worth of cashless aid. In 2018, its contributions were recognized. MyKasih received the 2018 U.N. Malaysia Award for the “Leaving No One Behind” category, honoring its effective distribution of aid “through public-private partnerships.”

SOLS 24/7

In 2000, teacher Raj Ridvan Singh along with his father and brother began SOLS 24/7 in Cambodia to provide informal education to impoverished populations. In 2005, Singh replicated the initiative in Timor Leste. Seeing the success of the endeavor, in 2007 he continued the initiative in Malacca, Malaysia. Singh moved the SOLS 24/7 headquarters to Kuala Lumpur five years later.

Through its diverse educational programs, the organization aims to empower the B40 community in Malaysia. Since its establishment, SOLS 24/7 has provided quality education to more than 500,000 people. The organization as provided more than 800 scholarships to the SOLS Solar Academy, equipping students with skills to thrive in the renewable energy sector. SOLS Community Centers provide training to marginalized and impoverished people, helping them improve on English skills, digital knowledge and personal development.

SOLS 24/7’s efforts are vast, showing its commitment to education and empowerment. Through these efforts, the organization helps Malaysians rise out of poverty by providing them with the skills and knowledge to secure jobs and establish businesses.

Looking Forward

Efforts by SOLS 24/7 and MyKasih in tackling poverty in Malaysia have provided aid and educational services for the socio-economic advancement of B40 families. These two NGOs continue to offer benefits that empower Malaysia’s impoverished communities, providing hope for all Malaysians in need.

– Julia Fadanelli
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Malaysia
Populations of people who suffer from mental illness exist in every country in the world. Some countries, like Malaysia, have a more prominent number of mental illness cases than others, having an equal ratio of one in five cases in comparison to the United States. Malaysian Medics International (MMI) pointed out that Malaysia has a national average of 1.27 psychiatrists per 100,000 people, a stark contrast to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendation for a ratio of one psychiatrist per 10,000 people. Here is some information about mental health in Malaysia and efforts to treat it.

About Mental Illness in Malaysia

Mental illness can have a large variety of causes. Moreover, pre-existing circumstances such as poverty can make cases of mental illness worse. Such cases tend to make it difficult for patients to maintain a steady lifestyle due to mental health symptoms that make full functionality difficult. The poverty that is already prominent often means that a support system is not present to give the patients the time they need to recover. In 2020, the police reported that 25% of recent suicides related to pressures of debt.

Stigma exists in Malaysia regarding mental health. Some Malaysians perceive mental illness as a natural phenomenon or a kind of divine punishment; this viewpoint often exists within families who have more religious inclinations. Many cases see these families attempting to ‘purge’ such conditions through spiritual means that have not always received medical approval and may not have positive effects.

Mental Health Among Youth

Prior to 2014-2015, few investigations into the statistics of mental health of the youth of Malaysia occurred. With the inclusion of mental health in the National Health Morbidity survey, the country is now taking the numbers more seriously and believes it should observe mental health numbers in order to preserve future generations.

In 2015, the National Health Morbidity Survey stated that mental health illnesses and conditions were likely to become the second most prominent illness after heart disease in Malaysia by 2020. In 2017, the National Health Morbidity Survey showed that one in five adolescents has depression while two in five have anxiety. At that time, 11.2% reported suicidal tendencies or intentions, and 10.1% reported that they have attempted suicide. Now in 2021, that statistic has increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused an increasing report of cases of mental health problems. Worldwide, the increase of those who suffer from mental illness has risen by an estimated 10 million.

Treatment for Mental Health Issues

Not everyone has access to treatment. Some are unable to afford it and certain areas lack proper clinics. Even in cases where there are professionals who can help, it can be difficult to make a consistent appointment. The WHO revealed statistics that showed that the ratio of psychiatrists to patients is 1:200,000 in Malaysia. On the chance that a person would be able to get a consultation, the aid they need may not always be available or open to them.

The Mental Illness and Support Association (MIASA)

There are organizations that are already working to offer as much support as possible for those who may not have access to resources like therapy or medication. Beginning in 2017, the Mental Illness And Support Association (MIASA) made it its mission to promote awareness on the importance of mental health in Malaysia. Its charities and services seek to provide aid for patients and caregivers alike. It offers a holistic solution by also encouraging spirituality alongside medical treatment, which is to give patients empowerment and autonomy.

The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC)

Certain companies are also working to make it easier for those with mental illnesses to reach out if there are no professionals available to them. In August 2019, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) worked with eight phone operation companies in order to waive call charges for people making calls to the Befrienders helpline, which is a mental health helpline that provides services such as counseling and emotional support over the phone. With the right aid, it is working to ensure that anyone can get the support they need for a healthy, functioning lifestyle.

It is the hope of the Malaysian government that with greater advocacy, the rise of mental illness in the growing youth will level out. The medical studies that have made this rise clear have helped to erase doubts about the prominence of mental illness and prove the need for treatment for mental health in Malaysia. In order to preserve future generations, the country will continue to take measures in order to give patients the support they need to live functioning and healthy lifestyles.

– Seren Dere
Photo: Flickr