PETALING JAYA - Malaysians hoping for an organ transplant find themselves having to go overseas because private hospitals here are struggling to meet the new criteria imposed by the Health Ministry (MOH) two years ago.
Several private hospitals used to do transplant surgeries until there was a death and the ministry shut down their operations.
A new requirement is a hospital must have a dedicated transplant team.
"A transplant procedure needs a complete team, not only of transplant surgeons, but of radiologists, pathologists, and anaesthetists to provide total continuum of care to the patient," said Ministry deputy director-general Datuk Dr Jeyaindran Sinnadurai.
"The team must also work on a regular basis, with at least two people on the team at any given time, because imagine what would happen if there is only one surgeon, and he goes on leave after operating on a patient.
"What happens if the patient suddenly has post-surgery complications?" he asked.
But it does not make financial sense to a private hospital here to have such a team because the amount of work it gets does not justify it.
As a result, the number of patients seeking kidney transplants at teaching hospital Universiti Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) has swelled.
Making the situation worse is the fact that Hospital Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (HUKM) stopped its transplant programme after its surgeon left.
Although government hospitals like Hospital Kuala Lumpur (HKL) and Selayang Hospital are able to do transplant work, much of the brunt of the MOH directive has apparently fallen on UMMC as transplants have either slowed down or ceased in HKL and Selayang a few months ago.
Dr Jeyaindran said the ministry was doing its part to reduce the long waiting list for transplants by collaborative partnerships with overseas institutions to train local talent.
"We are open to private hospitals taking up organ transplant procedures, but they must fulfil the minimum criteria which was drawn up two years ago by a team of experts."
Transplant work started in 1999 in private hospitals such as Subang Jaya Medical Centre and Gleneagles followed by Prince Court Medical Centre in 2009.
Until the clampdown in 2012, private hospitals contributed up to 19 per cent of kidney transplantation in Malaysia, with 17 per cent from Prince Court. However, because of the new criteria for private hospitals, patients who have previously gone to private hospitals here are now seeking help in UMMC.
Those who have the means, go to Singapore where a kidney transplant costs between S$100,000 and S$200,000. The cost has increased as a result of the weak ringgit this year.
Another option is to buy a kidney and do the surgery in China or India, which costs between RM500,000 (S$167,270.79) and RM600,000 now.
Those with a ready donor will try to avoid this illegal route. The World Health Organisation estimated in 2007 that 10 per cent of organ transplants performed worldwide involved unacceptable activities that endangered the poorest and vulnerable groups.