His Majesty calls for urgent review of maternity leave
By Azlan Othman

His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam yesterday called for a review of the existing maternity leave of 56 days that has been followed by the country for over two decades now.

The ruler delivered a titah after a surprise visit to RIPAS Hospital yesterday.

His Majesty also saw the need for more local medical specialists. Bruneian doctors should not rest with basic medical qualifications and should go on to do specialisations, which Brunei needs, added His Majesty.

Mothers are the ones who bring about new generations and it is appropriate that their welfare is given due attention and managed without them having to voice it out and ask for, the ruler said.

The regulation pertaining to maternity leave is contained in a government circular of the PM's Office dated 1993, which states that the permitted maternity leave is eight weeks or 56 days. His Majesty said the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 102/103 has stipulated that maternity leave should not be less than 12 weeks and highlighted other regulation of the same standard, which states that it should not be less than 14 weeks.

"Till now there are varying periods set by the countries around the world with some exceeding by those set by the international standards. Some Asean countries have set 60 days. However, this issue is still being debated and the period may be extended to 60 days, which is still regarded as too short as most countries have extended it to 90 days.

"In Brunei, the 56-day maternity leave has been followed for two decades already and this poses a question whether we have forgotten to revise it. Are they enough or are they too short?

"It must be looked into whether 56 days are enough for mothers to rest and regain energy used up during childbirth as giving birth cannot be taken lightly. This is further compounded by breastfeeding. If the maternity leave is longer, mothers would breastfeed their infants even longer," said His Majesty.

On the roles of doctors, His Majesty reiterated that doctors should not become a frightening shadow to society but be a torch of hope to them.

"Officers and doctors should succeed in their service and patients should be given utmost attention. Doctors should truly know their patients, their diseases and the sort of treatment ideal for them, including the highs and lows of the risks of post-treatment.

"All these should be done thoroughly and not just give assurances or predictions," said the ruler.

His Majesty added that there are various means to promote health such as by controlling food intake, maintaining cleanliness, exercise and so on and these are part of self-discipline. But self-discipline alone is inadequate as not all people could achieve it and they require guidance and advice from the relevant authorities.

The monarch also told a true story of a person suffering from a brain tumour who was told by the medical officer that if he underwent surgery, the survival rate would be 80 per cent compared to 20 per cent survival rate if the surgery was not carried out.

The doctor concerned also informed the individual that after the surgery he would have no problem in regaining consciousness and assured that the person would undergo rehabilitation therapy.

Upon hearing this, the next-of-kin who happened to be an undergraduate without any hesitation immediately agreed for the operation to be conducted.

But unfortunately after the surgery, the person did not regain consciousness and passed away two weeks later. His Majesty asked whether it was appropriate for the medical officer to give 80 per cent survival guarantee when in reality the person never regained consciousness and died.

His Majesty asked from where did the 80 per cent guarantee come from and whether it was based on mere estimation. The monarch also questioned whether this incident resulting in death was reviewed or its cause ever discussed.

The monarch said it should have been investigated so as to identify the quality of the officer involved. His Majesty said the time has come to be more careful in evaluating the expertise of the personnel recruited in this service.

"It is not enough to base recruitment on qualifications on paper but what needs to be looked at are the experience and service track record. In this regard, efforts to produce local specialists must also be given serious attention and should not be neglected. We need to move forward and plan swiftly.

"Holders of ordinary qualifications should not remain satisfied but must move on to the specialist level. Brunei is waiting and needs them," said His Majesty.

His Majesty also highlighted food safety and not only medicines but vegetables too should be analysed before they are sold to the public. His Majesty questioned whether medicines, vegetables and fish, especially those that are imported are analysed for any dangerous content prior to being sold at markets in the country.

"Vegetables need to be protected from hazardous toxic materials. They should meet the terms and conditions of standards for food products. Food Safety authorities should ensure that fish is free from dangerous preservatives or chemicals," said His Majesty.

His Majesty said harmful substances in food should be detected early and wondered why some medicines are allowed to be sold without being analysed.

The monarch asked whether the health authorities were well aware of the harmful ingredients or chose to do nothing until our neighbouring countries issued a recall based on which we spring into action.

"It is this type of announcement that we regularly hear," said His Majesty and added, "there should be no reason why the authorities don't detect hazardous ingredients in medicines before they are released into the market.

"How many people have been put to danger for consuming these kinds of medicine?" His Majesty asked and added that if this is the way that things are done, then there is room for improvement.

The monarch also highlighted the issue of vegetables and fish which need to be protected from harmful toxic substances as they are part of the daily food intake.

Majority of our vegetables are imported from overseas and His Majesty asked if they are analysed before being allowed to be sold in the local market. The analysis must be conducted daily and not just occasionally, said the ruler.

It is common to see trucks from overseas transporting vegetables straight to the market. His Majesty asked where the inspections are conducted and asked whether fish is adequately inspected. It is possible that various additives and preservatives are added by irresponsible parties.

The monarch also touched on the Halal aspect of food and underlined a scientific study that fish balls, a favourite food among many, are not Halal as they are made from animal blood and processed into a powder known as plasma protein. This should not be neglected and Halal enforcement officers should work together with researchers to handle this issue.

"Some have also raised the issue of fragrances found in beauty products and hundreds of toxic chemicals are found in perfumes. If the perfume is applied onto the skin, it can get into the blood stream and affect important organs," the ruler said.

On food safety, His Majesty said he had not received adequate response and hoped to see progress and results. - Borneo Bulletin (21st October 2010)