They are here to take care of our children and elderly parents, to cook and to clean. But some of these foreign domestic help may be doing us more harm than good, write P. SELVARANI and AUDREY VIJAINDREN.
YOU may think your maid's doing a great job caring for your children or aged parents.
But have you had a good look at her? Perhaps you should. In fact, it may be to your benefit to take her for a medical check-up.
This is because thousands of domestic maids are among the 42,000 foreign workers who entered the country last year with a host of diseases.
Ministry of Health statistics show that the workers had TB (16,697), hepatitis B (10,953) and syphilis (2,824).
Those who had HIV/AIDS numbered 683 while 147 were found to be suffering from psychiatric problems.
In addition, 2,329 workers were found to be pregnant.
Some 1.36 million legal foreign workers sought employment in Malaysia last year.
Dr Ramlee said the cases were detected through the Fomema medical screening, which all foreign workers have to undergo within a month of their arrival in Malaysia.
The screening was introduced three years ago after health officials here discovered that many foreign workers had infectious diseases although they had been declared medically fit by health authorities in their country.
But a number of these workers, especially maids, were also certified as disease-free by the Mal-aysian authorities.
The actual figure cannot be determined as no one is keeping track but complaints from employers are on the rise.
In fact, there is an increasing trend of employers sending maids for second-opinion medical tests because they do not trust the screening done in the country of origin and by Malaysian authorities.
Industry sources say that despite "stringent screening" by Fomema, the independent agency appointed by the government to monitor and supervise the mandatory health-screening programme, many unfit foreign workers continue to work here.
A doctor who spoke on condition of anonymity said some Fomema panel doctors were "certifying" foreign workers as fit without even physically examining them.
"Many employers, especially those in the manufacturing sector, do not want to suffer losses.
"If they bring in 60 workers and 20 of them are found to be medically unfit, they are not going to send the 20 back.
"They will work their way around the situation to obtain the medical clearance.
"I have seen foreign workers who were declared medically unfit working in some of these places."
He said some clinics approved medical reports for a fee.
"This is why we have so many cases of infectious diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis, which had been eradicated or reduced decades ago."
He said some Fomema-appointed labs were not doing the tests properly.
Another source said some employment agencies were making matters worse by "recycling" unfit workers instead of sending them back to their home country.
Health Ministry deputy director-general Datuk Dr Ramlee Rahmat said action would be taken against any doctor found to have falsified medical results.
He said 39 of the 3,432 Fomema panel clinics were suspended last year for various reasons, including the failure of doctors to examine foreign workers in their clinics and to verify the identity of foreign workers.
"We are not as worried about the legal foreign workers in the country as we are over the thousands of illegal workers here who may be carrying these highly-infectious diseases."
Dr Ramlee said there was little chance of medically-unfit legal workers gaining legal entry into the country now because of Fomema's strict entry requirements.
"Even if they present falsified documents from their host country, our medical tests here will detect them."
However, he said, Fomema tests did not include screening for diseases such as herpes and hepatitis A and C.
"If it's a case of non-sexually transmitted herpes or hepatitis which is not contagious, we do not include them in the compulsory medical check.
"We don't look for these because they are not infectious.
"Our concern is more for the population at large and not just an individual employer or worker," he said in response to the plight of employers who were saddled with medically-unfit maids.
The Malaysian Association of Foreign Maid Agencies said that although there were many rules in place, the qualification of panel doctors overseas was suspect.
Association vice-president Jeffrey Foo said: "There may be a lot of (deception) going on overseas."
Dr Ramlee said before 2005, the ministry and its counterparts in Indonesia would accredit designated clinics in the republic to conduct medical tests for those applying to work in Malaysia.
"We randomly tested the workers at the point of entry and found that up to four per cent of the 10 per cent whom we tested did not pass our medical screening.
"But we could not act against their clinics for giving them the go-ahead."
As a result, the ministry introduced a new system where every foreign worker had to undergo a second medical test within one month of entering the country. This test is repeated at the end of their first and second years of service.
"This has helped to weed out the problem of forged medical documents."
Under this screening system, which is done at Fomema-appointed clinics, the worker is tested for infectious diseases such as HIV, TB and hepatitis. They are also screened for hypertension, heart disease, asthma and diabetes.
Dr Ramlee said Fomema was stringent in its medical examination and would not accept any foreign worker who had even the slightest hint of carrying a highly-infectious disease.
"Even someone whose X-ray screenings reveal old TB scars and who does not appear to have the disease will be rejected. We cannot take chances as the disease can flare up again."