Malaysia: Death exposes naked truth about capitalism

Private hospitals demand money before health

K. Murale died at the Selangor Medical Centre, in Malaysia, because his family did not have enough money to pay the private hospital to give him the treatment he needed. His life was held to ransom. His wife was told to put in a deposit before he could be treated. The pleading and appeals of a desperate wife did not move the hospital authorities. He died. He was 39 years old and leaves behind two children aged 11 and 12.

His death exposed the barbarism of the private hospital set-up and shocked many people. Many people expressed disbelief. Bu this is the “world of capitalism”! Murale’s death known about, but there are many others who have perished the same way. The naked truth of the capitalist system, where market forces and profit is the God to be worshiped, means that if you don’t have money, you are better dead than alive.  

This is not the first case I have come across. There are numerous cases where hospitals just don’t want to do anything unless you pay them. There is no value put on life. Some time ago, my friends brought some teenagers, injured in a serious accident, to a private hospital. The hospital was more interested in finding out who was going to pay the bill rather than staunching the blood which was oozing from the semi-conscious teenagers.

Private hospitals are growing like mushrooms. Some of them can be easily mistaken for 5-star hotels or palaces. These hospitals don’t exist to save lives but have become a lucrative business and a profit venture for capitalists. That is what our health system is heading towards. After slow privatisation of some departments of the hospitals, the ‘co-operatisation’ of some hospitals, trying to turn certain parts of hospitals into private wings, promoting ‘health tourism’…our once respected health system is going to the dogs.

Today, we have 75% of the population getting treatment in public hospitals and one quarter going to private hospitals. Yet we have just four MRI machines in the public sector compared with twenty three in the private hospitals. There are nineteen scan machines in the public hospitals and sixty seven in the private ones.

Health facilities for all!

The only logical way for the government to redress this inequality would be for it to make these facilities accessible for the majority. But again, the government does not have the will to get hospital equipment from the bosses for general use. That is why you will find even middle class families, like Murale’s family, pleading for people’s lives at private hospitals. What about the rest – the poor, the migrant workers, the refugees and so many more?

When hundreds of workers demonstrated at the Health Ministry, on 23 December 2004, protesting against the move to privatise hospital dispensaries, the Health Minister, Chua Soi Lek, proudly said that health care is never free anywhere in the world. “In no country in the world is it free except in Cuba”. Yes indeed, if Murale had been in Cuba, or in any other country which practices a socialist-type health system, he would still be alive, and Malaysian people would not be expressing such outrage at his death.

Today, every time a doctor examines you in a private hospital, every time you need to press a button to call for assistance, every second that oxygen is pumped into your body, every drop of drugs which you take in, every breath of air you inhale, you burn thousands of ringgit (Malaysian currency). This is the naked truth of capitalism, when critical life-saving drugs cost hundreds and thousands of dollars due to patent rights and other capitalist monopoly controls.

Health is no more a social issue, it is a commercial issue. It is a system which breeds on the poverty of the people.

150 years ago, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels said society can suddenly find itself put back in a state of momentary barbarism. A famine or a war suddenly cut off the means of subsistence. Industry and commerce seem to be destroyed. This is what capitalist rule could lead to, Marx and Engels said, and today we see it coming true.

Looking at the world today! There is so much technology and scientific advances, yet there is so much poverty and famine. The United States is a super-power and vanguard of world capitalism, bullying every nation which gets in its way, yet it finds that it cannot give dignity and humanity to its own people in New Orleans.

Rosa Luxembourg once said, “Capitalism is an exploitative social system whose contradictions must lead either to socialism or barbarism”. Murale’s death makes me ponder about where we can end up. The choice – capitalism or socialism – is something we must all think about.

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October 2005