Prior to the 1970s, most hospitals laboratories in Malaysia were run by the few pathologists that the country had at that time. Technologists, who were then known as laboratory assistants, ran indeed many laboratories. It was only in the 1970s that scientifically qualified graduates were recruited as clinical biochemists in Malaysian government hospitals.
Both the government and private sector provide health services in Malaysia. The network of hospitals and community clinics operated by the Ministry of Health offers health care to all Malaysians at minimal or no charge at all. Operating in parallel are the services offered by private hospitals and clinics where users are charged the full cost of care and treatment. Government laboratories that perform testing services for government hospital patients are attached to government hospitals, with the exception of the 105 year-old Institute for Medical Research in Kuala Lumpur, a department of the Ministry of Health, which offers specialised testing services and undertakes research on local health problems. All the major government hospital laboratories are staffed by trained pathologists including medically-qualified chemical pathologists and degree-holding scientific officers who are attached to the biochemistry and microbiology sections of the laboratories according to their specialities. A college of Medical Laboratory Technology in Kuala Lumpur trains diploma-level MLTs who to cater for the needs of the Ministry of Health’s laboratories.
Private laboratories are of two kinds: those which are attached to private hospitals and stand-alone laboratories which cater mostly to outpatient private clinics. Most, if not all, have pathologists in charge.
Accreditation of laboratories is still at in its infancy and the ISO15189 is the accreditation recommended by the Department of Standards. Some laboratories have received accreditation from NATA (Australia).
The Malaysian Association of Clinical Biochemists was formed, when a group of like minded clinical biochemists got together to elect a pro-tem committee on 18th August 1990. The idea of forming an association of clinical biochemists was first put forward by Dr. Tan It Koon and Dr. Mohd Zaini in 1979. It was only in 1987 that serious discussions involving 21 biochemists and 1 chemical pathologist. It came into official existence shortly afterwards upon receiving its formal regregistration. The first scientific meeting of the MACB was held on 9 March, 1991 and one has been held annually ever since.
Membership of the Asian and Pacific Federation of Clinical Biochemistry (APFCB) and the IFCC soon followed. A coup of sorts was achieved when the young MACB was awarded the opportunity to host the 8th Asian-Pacific Congress of Clinical Biochemistry (8th APCCB) by the APFCB that was to be held in October 1998.
Much effort went into the organisation of this event by a small core group of inexperienced but enthusiastic members, that included this writer, who began work from 1995. The in vitro diagnostics industry was immensely supportive with funding. However, 2 major events beyond our control intervened that threatened to disrupt our plans and hard work. The first of these was the currency crisis of 1997 that saw the devaluation of the currencies of most of the Asian countries in the Pacific rim and put much pressure on our corporate supporters. The next was a local political event that caused some minor demonstrations but whose importance was hyped when it was televised to the rest of the world. This caused prospective participants to draw the wrong conclusions. Fortunately, our corporate partners were steadfast in their support during the currency crisis and the assurances on the security situation from the organisers did not result in mass cancellations of participants and speakers. The 8th APCCB in Malaysia was both a scientific and financial success.
Besides its annual meetings, the MACB undertakes training programmes on an ad hoc basis. In recent years, it has also hosted APFCB Travelling Lecturers in 1999, 2000 and 2003. In 2004, the MACB hosted its first IFCC Visiting Lectures given by Professor Jean-Claude Forest of Laval University Quebec, Canada, who visited the country as part of a tour arranged by the APFCB. A training programme on laboratory quality will be organised in Kuala Lumpur jointly with the Australasian Association of Clinical Biochemists in the middle of this year (2006) in conjunction with the MACB’s annual scientific meeting.
Contributed by Joseph Lopez, Executive Board member, IFCC
(The writer is a founder member of the MACB)