Breaking down the barriers: understanding migrant workers access to healthcare in Malaysia

Malaysia is one of the largest migrant receiving countries in South East Asia, with an estimated total of 3.85 to 5.3 million migrant workers in Malaysia in 2018, including undocumented workers.  Despite having achieved Universal Health Coverage, accessibility of healthcare services for migrant workers in Malaysia is questionable. Recently, medical fees for foreigners at public facilities were substantially increased. Mandatory health insurance only covers public hospital admissions and excludes undocumented migrants. 

In an article published in PLoS One entitled ‘Breaking down the barriers: understanding migrant workers access to healthcare in Malaysia’, Dr Tharani Loganathan with co-authors Assoc. Prof. Ng Chiu Wan, Dr. Deng Rui from Kunming University, and Dr. Nicola S. Pocock from London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, explore the barriers faced by documented and undocumented migrant workers in Malaysia.

This qualitative study involved 17 in-depth interviews with key informants from civil society organisations, trade unions, academia, medical professionals, as well as migrant workers and their representatives. This study revealed that healthcare services in Malaysia are often inaccessible to migrant workers. Complex access barriers were identified, many beyond the control of the health sector.  Major themes include affordability and financial constraints, the need for legal documents like valid passports and work permits, language barriers, discrimination and xenophobia, physical inaccessibility and employer-related barriers. This work documents the gaps in current migrant policy in Malaysia and will contribute towards formulating solutions that extend beyond the health system.

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