Is Malaysia PoorMalaysia is a country located on the Malay Peninsula in southeast Asia. In 2016, it had a population of 31,187,265. In the same year, its GDP was $296.359 billion. Life expectancy went up by almost two years from 2002 to 2015, and it has a reputation for the massive strides it has made in poverty reduction due to its economic growth. The Commission on Growth and Development identified it as one of a few countries to experience more than 7 percent growth every year for more than 25 years. Its exports are varied, including electric parts, components and appliances, and palm oil and natural gas. By all accounts, Malaysia is prospering. So is Malaysia poor?

Is Malaysia Poor?

The national poverty headcount (which is the percentage of the population living below the poverty line) was 0.6 percent in 2014, down from 6 percent in 2002. However, migration from rural areas to urban areas has increased urban poverty, which has been exacerbated by crony capitalism and a rising cost of living.

Factors Causing Malaysia Poverty

Rural to Urban Migration
In recent decades, poverty was much higher in rural areas than in urban areas in Malaysia. As a result, the government’s poverty-reduction programs and policies were focused on rural poverty, neglecting urban poverty. During that same period, many people moved to cities from rural areas, including many foreign workers.

This rural to urban migration put pressure on urban infrastructure and essential services. Currently, 70 percent of Malaysians live in urban areas. Unemployment rose, and large families earning low wages now suffer from a lack of basic resources.

Profiteering, rent-seeking and crony capitalism have all widened the income gap between the rich and poor in Malaysia’s cities. Big companies hold on to more of their profits, allocating less toward wages. In more “developed” countries, 50-60 percent of GDP typically goes toward employee wages. In Malaysia, only 33 percent of GDP goes toward wages. Low wages prevent families from saving for emergencies or healthcare costs.

In May 2016, the Crony Capitalism Index, which compares the billionaires’ wealth percentages against GDP, ranked Malaysia as number two, second only to Russia.

High Cost of Living
The cost of living in urban areas is significantly higher than in rural areas. On average, as of 2015 60 percent of Malaysians lived on approximately $1,600 a month. Looking solely at rural areas, the proportion rises to 85 percent who live on less than $1,600 a month. This skews the perception of poverty in rural areas relative to urban areas. But according to one Malaysian man, “In rural areas, the cost of living is cheaper and there is no shortage of housing. Food supplies can be supplemented by farming, growing your own vegetables and rearing chickens. But you can’t do that in flats in urban areas.”

Food prices have skyrocketed in Malaysia, and 94.6 percent of Malaysian households say that they spend more on food than anything else. Despite many years of economic growth, the per capita gross national income dropped from $10,440 in 2015 to $9,850 in 2016. As a result, Malaysians can experience poverty in urban areas even if they are technically earning an income above the poverty line.

Ethnic Disparities
Malaysia defines ethnic minorities broadly as “Other Bumiputera“, which encompasses communities such as the Orang Asli and all of the indigenous peoples living in the Sabah and Sarawak states. Poverty rates among “Other Bumiputera” are consistently much higher than ethnic-majority groups. For example, the poverty headcount in the Sabah state is 4 percent, more than 6 times higher than the national poverty headcount.

The Good News
So, is Malaysia poor? Like any country, a portion of its citizens are experiencing poverty, and that must be addressed. But it has made major strides in reducing poverty since the 1980s. Today, the government provides free primary and secondary education for all Malaysians, and healthcare is free in rural areas and very low cost in urban areas. In short, there is always room for improvement, but Malaysia is on the path to eliminating poverty.

Olivia Bradley

Photo: Flickr

Causes of Poverty in Malaysia
Malaysia is a nation in southeast Asia with a rich history and a population of over 30 million. The nation has been one historically plagued with deep poverty; however, in recent decades, the conditions for a large swathe of its people have greatly improved. The government has undertaken a monumental effort to attempt to eradicate the causes of poverty in Malaysia and has been largely successful. Nevertheless, the country still suffers from the ills of impoverishment and plenty of work still needs to be done.

Since the Millennium Development Goals were introduced in 1990, the Malaysian government has done a lot to reduce poverty in the nation. The percentage of households living on less than $8.50 per day (the national poverty line) fell from over 50 percent in the 1960s to 1 percent currently. The Asian Development Bank claimed this to be the largest reduction among all Asian countries. Another government goal was to halve the number of people living on $1 a day by 2015, which they also successfully achieved.

The task of solving the root causes of poverty in Malaysia, however, is still far from over. Over 60 percent of the country still lives on less than $1,600 a month, and in rural areas, that number can climb up to 85 percent. Furthermore, although only about 1 percent of people currently live under the extreme poverty line, that still accounts for 300,000 people, a significant number.

The government recognizes that it still has not fully addressed the causes of poverty in Malaysia, and has laid out a road map of its future plan of action. This plan of action revolves around four main focal points.


Addressing the Causes of Poverty in Malaysia


  1. Increase the level of education among the poor. Through education, children in poor communities will have a better chance to get a high-paying job or start a business.
  2. Strengthen social safety nets, enhance collaboration with NGOs and corporations and provide empowerment programs.
  3. Ensure income is redistributed to uplift those in poverty for the bottom 40 percent.
  4. Institutionalize appropriate policies which promote economic development.

If the Malaysian government continues on the path they have been on so far and successfully addresses these goals in their plan of action, poverty and the ills it brings could be effectively eradicated in the nation once and for all.

Alan Garcia-Ramos

Photo: Flickr

Malaysia Poverty Rate

According to one of the most recent reports by the World Bank, Malaysia has had an inclusive economic growth rate of about 7 percent annually for the past 25 years. Since this growth has been inclusive, Malaysia has been successful at nearly eradicating poverty in the country. This makes the Malaysia poverty rate comparatively low—less than 1 percent of Malaysians live in extreme poverty.

How is it that the Malaysia poverty rate can be so low?

The answer to that question is multifaceted.

Diversifying the Economy

Firstly, it has to do with the economy. In the 1970s, the industry in Malaysia shifted from being based in the production of raw natural materials to a more diversified economy. Malaysia started to export electronic appliances and parts, palm oil and natural gas.

This diversified economy in turn called for a more diversified and specialized labor force. In 2015 alone, Malaysia witnessed a labor force growth of 1.8 percent and a labor participation rate of 67.9 percent—up about 0.3 percent from 2014. Decreases in unemployment rate have followed economic growth. As of June 2017, the unemployment rate is at 3.2 percent. Comparatively, the U.S. currently has an unemployment rate of 4.4 percent.

Helping the Right Population

The second reason why the Malaysia poverty rate is low is because of the population that has benefited the most from the recent economic growth. The Malaysian government has shifted its focus to address the households in the lowest 40 percent. These “bottom 40” households saw a growth of 11.4 percent from 2009 to 2014. That is compared to the 7.9 percent growth of the total population of Malaysia.

However, because of the focus on the lower income households, many people in the middle class have been left out. According to an article by Malaymail Online, some have even fallen into what is considered poverty. Much of this is due to the high inflation rates per year versus the lack in increase in household income.

In the past, the rising incomes and low cost of living allowed the middle class to thrive in Malaysia. However, as of 2012, inflation started to increase. Thankfully, in the past year the inflation has dropped from around 5 percent to 3 percent.

The future goal of Malaysia as a nation is to reach high income status by 2020. With an economic growth of 7 percent annually for the past 25 years and the Malaysia poverty rate at an all-time low, this number seems realistic and attainable.

Sydney Roeder

Photo: Flickr

Common Diseases in MalaysiaAccording to the CIA World Factbook, the nation of Malaysia has a life expectancy of 75 years. This ranks it at 110 in the world, between countries like Romania and Iraq. Even though the water quality is improving — 93 percent improved in rural areas and 100 percent improved in urban — a few common diseases in Malaysia still take a toll on the population.

Some of the major infectious diseases for Malaysia include what is known as dengue fever and the water contact disease called leptospirosis.

Leptospirosis is described by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a bacterial disease that is contracted through exposure to animal urine or things that have been contaminated by animal urine. The bacteria can enter the body in several ways, including cuts or through mucous membranes like the mouth, nose and eyes.

If one were to contract this disease, they could expect several discomforting symptoms: chills, redness in the eyes, jaundice, abdominal pains, hemorrhages in the skin or mucous membranes, vomiting, diarrhea, a rash and severe headaches are likely to occur in the early stages.

One of the other common diseases in Malaysia, the previously mentioned dengue fever, is much more difficult to avoid, due to its method of contamination; dengue fever is transmitted by mosquitoes.

People who have been infected by dengue will have a high fever (around 104 degrees Fahrenheit) coupled with several other flu-like symptoms, such as pain behind the eyes, muscle and joint aching, nausea, vomiting, rash, swollen glands or severe headaches. These symptoms can last anywhere between two and seven days, and the incubation period lasts between four and ten, after the bite.

Being a tropical nation, the Malaysian environment’s natural humidity is prone to hosting mosquitoes, among other insects. The mosquito population is helped by rapid urbanization and unclean, unprotected water supplies.

Thankfully, a vaccine has been discovered within the past two years. This vaccine, called Dengvaxia, was created by the vaccinations division of Sanofi, officially named Sanofi Pasteur. Other vaccines are being worked on as well, some in phase three of clinical trials.

Currently, the main method for fighting against dengue fever is through preventing mosquito bites. This method utilizes sanitation, insecticides, avoiding the creation of mosquito-prone habitats and early clinical detection of the illness. On the ground, the implementation of these strategies can be as simple as covering a waste basket and disposing of food properly.

Stephen Praytor

Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in MalaysiaAccess to clean drinking water is crucial in order to sustain life. For some nations, this is a major dilemma. Thus, water quality in Malaysia is currently of some concern.

Malaysia is experiencing rapid urbanization and population growth. This rapid growth leads to an increased demand for water and spiked levels of water pollution. These factors seriously harm the water quality in Malaysia.

Various human, domestic, industrial, commercial and transportation wastes trickle into the water supply. Polluting water sources consequently creates serious health hazards.

Water quality in Malaysia, as well as access to water in general, is a major problem. The primary pollutants present in the water are Biochemical Oxygen Demand, Ammoniacal Nitrogen and Suspended Solids. These are consequences of untreated or only partially treated sewage.

Lakes and reservoirs serve as domestic, industrial, agricultural, hydroelectric, navigational and recreational sources of water. Since 98 percent of the water originates from rivers, river pollution is a serious concern.

Malaysia has departments like the Department of Environments to take charge of the water quality problem. The Department of Environments is responsible for tracking the water quality in Malaysia using Water Quality Index and National Water Quality Standards. The National Water Quality Monitoring Programme added new rivers in the area to control the presence of Biochemical Oxygen Demand, Ammoniacal Nitrogen and Suspended Solids.

With the development of the Department of Environments to control the water quality problem and the National Water Quality Monitoring Program to decrease pollutants in the water supply, water quality in Malaysia is improving significantly. Malaysia receives 25,000 cubic meters of renewable water for each person each year from this river system.

This system significantly improves the water quality in Malaysia. However, the country lacks a nationally recognized standard for water quality. Several agencies manage the system, but they have no legal ties or obligations to follow certain policies.

Malaysia continues to work on improving its water quality through these fragmented agencies, but these efforts are not enough to completely salvage the quality. Fixing the fragmentation is a step in the right direction for Malaysia. Additionally, outside organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund are working in Malaysia.

Focusing on creating a cohesive and binding system in Malaysia would improve the water quality while also ensuring that agencies have a legal obligation to comply with monitoring practices.

Katelynn Kenworthy

Photo: Flickr

Refugees in Malaysia
Due to its booming economy and multi-cultural society, Malaysia is a beacon in Southeast Asia for economic migrants and refugees alike. As the refugee crisis continues, Malaysia grapples with its institutions, history and policies towards migrants. Discussed below are some basics about refugees in Malaysia.

10 Alarming Facts About Refugees in Malaysia

  1. As of the end of April 2017, there are about 150,662 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia. Of these refugees, about 89 percent are persecuted ethnic groups from Myanmar, comprised of Rohingyas, Chins, Myanmar Muslims, Rakhines and Arakanese.
  2. About 11 percent of registered refugees are from other countries, including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. About 67 percent of refugees and asylum-seekers are men, and 33 percent are women. About 36,331 refugees are children under the age of 18.
  3. In Malaysia, refugees are not distinguished from undocumented migrants and are at risk of deportation or detention. They lack access to legal employment and formal education. Refugees are able to access public and private healthcare, but this access is often hindered by the cost of treatment and language barriers.
  4. Because refugees have no access to legal employment, they tend to work difficult or dangerous jobs that the rest of the population does not wish to take. Refugee workers often face exploitation by employers who take advantage of their situation, paying them low wages or no wages at all.
  5. There are no refugee camps in Malaysia; refugees live in cities and towns across the country in low-cost apartments or houses. These accommodations are often overcrowded, and it’s not uncommon for several families or dozens of individuals to share a living space.
  6. Malaysia is neither party to the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention nor its 1967 protocol. Malaysia is also not a party to the 1954 and 1961 U.N. Statelessness Convention. Malaysia lacks a legal framework for managing refugees, so the UNHCR conducts all activities concerning the registration, documentation and status determination of refugees. The Malaysian Government cooperates with UNHCR in addressing refugee issues.
  7. UNCHR began operations in Malaysia in 1975 when Vietnamese refugees began to arrive by boat in Malaysia and other neighboring countries. From 1975 to 1996, UNCHR assisted the Malaysian government in helping and protecting Vietnamese refugees. Over those two decades, more than 240,000 Vietnamese were resettled, and about 9,000 persons returned home to Vietnam.
  8. In the past, Malaysia has opened its doors to vulnerable populations through government programs. In 1991, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad championed a scholarship program for Bosnian Muslims after hearing the Serbs announce an ethnic cleansing campaign. However, they referred to participants as “guests” rather than refugees.
  9. As of 2015, the Malaysian government has pledged to shelter 3,000 Syrian refugees. Syrians will be given temporary residence passes, permission to work and permission to attend school. Though about 1,100 Syrian refugees are already in Malaysia, this program seeks to resettle more new refugees.
  10. As of March 2017, Malaysia has developed a pilot program to allow 300 Rohingya refugees to work legally within the country. Successful applicants will be placed with selected companies in manufacturing and agricultural industries. This project was instated to prevent forced labor and exploitation, as well to give refugees necessary skills and income to make a living before potential relocation.

The lives of refugees in Malaysia are often lived in the shadows, with a constant risk of deportation or detention. Refugees are most vulnerable, however, because their home country is too dangerous to return to. This is why the registration of refugees is essential to their safety, be it through UNCHR or the initiatives of the government itself.

Hannah Seitz

Photo: Flickr

Poverty In Malaysia
Poverty in Malaysia is a controversial economic and political issue. The definition of poverty and the poverty line in Malaysia has been disputed for years and causes much political uproar, including political protests and debates.

Malaysia has grown rapidly in economic development, with 65.6 percent of the population aged 15 years and above employed and working in 2014. With that many people working, each household is expected to make a sufficient income.

It has been recorded that there was a 55.3 percent reduction in the percentage of population below the poverty line in Malaysia, meaning that the country’s poverty is a large focus for the government and the community, and they are working together to solve the problem.

A survey conducted in 2014 by the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM), on a sample size of 81,634 households, shares the preliminary data that only one percent of these households were living below the poverty line index. That’s right – Malaysia has a poverty population of one percent, meaning that only 300,000 people of 33.3 million are living in poverty in Malaysia.

The government is currently working to solve Malaysian poverty by using the four-pronged method of thinking discussed below.

4 Approaches to Addressing Poverty In Malaysia

  1. Educate and lift the level of education among the poor children in school, and teach them business practices that can help them gain a higher income job and possibly run a company.
  2. Strengthen social safety nets, and provide government-funded empowerment
  3. Ensure income is redistributed to uplift those in poverty.
  4. Create policies that promote economic development.

Malaysia has one of the largest middle classes in any Muslim country. It’s made up of Malays, Chinese and Indians. Many of these middle-class people own their own modern houses and condos, own two cars and employ Indonesian maids.

Malaysia is on the right track to completely eliminate its impoverishment and strengthen its economy. Aid from the U.S. can only guarantee these goals.

Rilee Pickle

Photo: Flickr

Fighting to Overcome Hunger in Malaysia
Malaysia, a country located in Southeast Asia, has one of many populations facing extreme rates of poverty. The issue of hunger in Malaysia has been prevalent throughout the past few decades. In 2011, 57 percent of children living in Southeast Asia were underweight.

Although the rates of hunger in Malaysia dropped from 29.6 percent to 17.6 percent in 2013, the U.N. described this drop as inadequate for meeting the target of the Millennium Developmental Goals. In other words, the country needs a much greater turnaround if the target goals toward reducing hunger are to be accomplished.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has done ample research into the prevalence of hunger and poverty in Malaysia and the burdens that follow. It subsequently found that children who are malnourished face an increased risk of exhibiting cognitive and developmental disabilities at some point in the future.

In addition, there seems to be a correlation between individuals suffering from hunger in Malaysia compared with those who are overweight. According to UNICEF, “A child whose growth was stunted in early childhood is at greater risk of becoming overweight later in life.” Likewise, an increased risk for being overweight correlates with “increased access to junk food and drinks, physical inactivity and sedentary lifestyles.” These growing issues have led to the implementation of different health and training programs by numerous healthcare groups in Malaysia. The programs are accessible to children (especially within the school system), teens and adults.

In 2005, a volunteer-based organization known as Stop Hunger Now set up offices in Kuala Lumpur and began implementing a meal packaging program, specifically targeting malnourished individuals in Malaysia. Stop Hunger Now has thousands of volunteers who package together vegetables, rice, soy and tons of vitamins.

With assistance from local, U.S. corporations and community groups, Stop Hunger Now has supplied more than two million meal packages for malnourished people throughout Malaysia.

Lael Pierce

Photo: Flickr

Top Diseases in Malaysia
With a vast population of more than 30 million people, the Southeast Asian country of Malaysia has proven to be susceptible to numerous outbreaks and diseases. According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2014 Country Profile of Malaysia, cardiovascular disease is listed as the leading cause of death at 36 percent, affecting all ages and both sexes. Communicable, maternal, perinatal and nutritional conditions are the second highest cause of death at 16 percent, followed by cancer at 15 percent. The remaining percentages consisted of a combination of other non-communicable diseases (NCDs), injuries, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes. The most recent data covering top diseases in Malaysia is discussed below.

Top 7 Diseases in Malaysia

Coronary heart disease

According to the WHO, Coronary heart disease ranks number one in terms of both diseases and health-related problems, responsible for 29,363 deaths. Coronary heart disease is the buildup of plaque in the heart’s arteries, which often leads to heart attacks.


Stroke is the second-largest cause of death in Malaysia, as it affects approximately 40,000 people each year.

Influenza and pneumonia

Influenza and pneumonia have caused 11,773, or 9.26 percent, of total deaths. Influenza (flu) is a severe viral infection that is highly contagious. Pneumonia is a serious infection or inflammation of the lungs.

Lung diseases

Lung diseases are another one of the top diseases in Malaysia, with 6,797 recorded deaths.

Diabetes mellitus

The total number of deaths as a result of diabetes amounts to 4,760. Diabetes mellitus is a chronic, lifelong condition that affects the body’s ability to use the energy found in food, whether that be a lack of insulin, or an inability to use the insulin that is produced.


As of 2015, 91,600 people in Malaysia live with HIV/AIDS, and 7,200 deaths have come from the disease.


In 2016, leptospirosis, a water contact disease, was classified as one of the top diseases in Malaysia. Humans can become infected through contact with water, soil or food contaminated with the urine of infected animals. Without adequate treatment, leptospirosis can lead to kidney damage, meningitis, liver failure, respiratory distress and in extreme cases, death.

Various diseases continue to present concerns for Malaysia and its people. It is necessary that both the public and professionals are aware of these diseases in order to provide affected individuals with the proper healthcare and assistance that they need.

Mikaela Frigillana

Photo: Flickr

The Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership, Patents, and the Price of Medicine
The Office of the United States Trade Representative hails the prospective Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership as a way to “[level] the playing field for American workers & American businesses” through a set of trade agreements between 12 different countries. The deal has been drafted, but not yet ratified.

At least six of the participant countries — including the United States and Japan, in order for the group to meet economic output requirements — must agree to the deal by February 2018 for the TPP to become a reality. Other potential participants include Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Peru and Chile.

Negotiations regarding the TPP have been in progress for more than 10 years, and the goal of the TPP is to lower trade barriers and synchronize trade regulations between participant countries. The deal would affect 18,000 tariffs, most notably eliminating all textile and clothing tariffs and lowering tariffs on agricultural and industrial products. However, not all of the changes in tariffs would take place immediately following ratification.

The USTR advertises that the TPP would protect workers’ rights and the environment, set food safety standards, and maintain the openness of the Internet. However, there is much controversy surrounding the agreement, particularly as it relates to the price of medicine in Pacific Rim countries.

Doctors Without Borders, for one, calls the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership “a bad deal for medicine,” because less-expensive generic drugs would be held off the market for a longer period of time. Drug patents would be extended, and the generic drug approval process would become more difficult for biologic drugs, in particular.

Pharmaceutical companies like Gilead and Bristol-Myers Squibb have voluntarily made agreements with generic drug manufacturers, to allow their currently patent-protected hepatitis C medications to be produced and sold more cheaply in low-income countries.

However, middle-income countries are excluded from these company-led initiatives, even though three-quarters of hepatitis C patients live in middle-income countries like the TPP participant, Malaysia. The extension of drug patents through the TPP could thus prevent patients in countries already excluded from such agreements with pharmaceutical companies, from accessing affordable medications for a longer period of time.

The USTR website maintains that the TPP would lower the cost of medications by eliminating tariffs. However, it does not address patents on pharmaceutical products or the effect that these patents have on the price of medicine in Pacific Rim countries.

The U.S. Congress can only ratify or reject the deal, in its current state, because the deal has been “fast-tracked.” Even so, the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership has not yet been ratified, so its specifications can be re-negotiated with participant countries. Doctors Without Borders encourages constituents to contact Congress members and the president to request that the deal is not ratified until its patent and intellectual property rules for pharmaceuticals are revised.

Madeline Reding

Photo: Flickr