Of late, a number of deaths of National Service (NS) trainees have caused tremendous concern among parents. To allay these fears, the government plans to set up a technical committee to look into health issues surrounding the (NS) training programme and come up with a list of recommendations. Health Minister Dr Chua Soi Lek is reported be even considering medical check-ups for potential trainees.
Looking at the causes of the deaths among trainees so far, they fall into three categories:
- Accident and trauma - This includes drowning and severe fatal injuries.
- Infections due to exposure of the trainees to remote areas which harbour rare strains of pathogenic micro-organisms.
- Unknown causes - this includes groups of trainees who were healthy to start with when they succumbed to sudden mysterious deaths. They could have asymptomatic congenital cardiac or vascular lesions in the brain or elsewhere. Others include epilepsy and bronchial asthma. These individuals were apparently healthy and asymptomatic under normal circumstances, only to suddenly collapse and die on strenuous physical stress.
Normal medical check-ups will never detect these abnormalities. Even sophisticated examinations like CT scans and MRI scans may not detect them. To detect congenital heart and cerebral lesions we may even need an echocardiogram and an invasive procedure like an angiography. Are these really necessary?
These measures would be mere waste of taxpayers money. A basic medical check-up for a domestic maid by Fomema costs RM190. One can imagine the huge cost that will be incurred to do basic medical check-ups for all the NS 40,000 trainees of each batch. To this is added the other costs for transport, food, uniforms, accommodation, artillery and so on.
From the results of this programme, we understand that it succeeds in fostering racial unity among our children of different races during the period of training and the months that follow. In the long term, however, it fails in its noble aim as the children soon return to a 'real life' environment of racial segregation and animosity in universities and places of work.
The pertinent question here is whether - apart from the risks to the participants - it is cost- effective to carry on with this programme of National Service when it brings no long-term benefits for racial integration for which it is primarily intended.
We have a much cheaper, safer and more effective way to do that bring such training into our schools for the start.