02 July 2012
KUALA LUMPUR (June 28, 2012): Drivers of buses, taxis and all other public vehicles may soon have to be tested for sleep disorders before getting their licences renewed in a move by the Health Ministry to reduce the risk of accidents due to drivers falling asleep at the wheel.
Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said his ministry will work with the Transport Ministry on how to include tests for sleep disorders as part of these drivers’ regular health screening during licence renewal.
“Commercial vehicle drivers are given a health screening before their licence can be renewed. Usually it involves only blood and urine tests for drugs or any health problem, but we will propose to the RTD to include the sleep disorder test,” he told a press conference after launching the inaugural Asean Sleep Congress today.
This is because studies have shown that people with obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, are seven times more likely to have multiple accidents, Liow said.
“Studies have also proved that sleep disorders, particularly OSA, are directly linked to health problems such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes and obesity,” he said.
OSA occurs when the flow of air to the lungs pauses or decreases because the airway is narrowed or blocked. It results in daytime sleepiness, slow reflexes, poor concentration, morning headaches and an increased risk of accidents.
Liow also said the ministry will engage Bank Negara soon to enable insurance reimbursement for sleep disorder test, surgery or rehabilitation.
He said the ministry will also train more sleep laboratory technicians in order to provide the necessary manpower to test for sleep disorders.
“Right now we definitely don’t have enough technicians to analyse the data and test for sleep disorders. We have 25 sleep testing laboratories but only three qualified technicians,” he said.
Liow added that once the ministry has trained sufficient technicians, it will collaborate with the RTD to come up with a proper testing programme for public vehicle drivers.
“The Health Ministry views seriously the critical danger that sleep disorders pose to people and is committed to improving the lives of many sufferers of OSA,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Malaysian Society of Otorhinolaryngologist, Head and Neck Surgeons president Dr Yap Yoke Yeow welcomed the move to address the health hazards posed by sleep disorders.
However, he said the training of sleep lab technicians must be stepped up with the view to eventually set up a sleep technology training centre locally.
“It takes two years to pass the American board certification exam, which is conducted in the United States. So it is very important to train enough technicians so that we can eventually train more technicians locally,” Yap said.
By: Pauline Wong
This article was published in www.thesundaily.my on 28 June 2012.