THE role of a mother and a doctor seemed to be intertwined in Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali. Her message to mothers in Malaysia is for them to look after their children, who she described as “the products that we have been blessed with”, and to make sure that they live a healthy life with all the care and love that a parent can give.

On top of that, she advised all mothers to take care of themselves.

“Take care of your babies, take care of yourself,” she said in an exclusive interview with the New Sunday Times.

Dr Siti Hasmah, 93, is not only a mother, but also a grandmother and a great grandmother. She and Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad have one great granddaughter.

She is a staunch advocate of public health. When she was serving as a doctor in Kedah, she championed rural health, organising programmes to promote hygiene, healthy lifestyles and immunisation for children.

She spoke at length on immunisation, which she considered the “utmost priority”.

She couldn’t understand why parents would deny vaccination to their children. Every mother with a baby aged 6 months and below e child
to a clinic or hospital for vaccination for the sake of their health.

“They (parents) went through vaccination before. They are healthy to this day. Why don’t they vaccinate their children? Surely, they wouldn’t want their children to suffer later on. I don’t know if there is a different agenda to this.”

She cited the diphtheria case in Johor saying that children should continue to be immunised to prevent illness, disability and death from other vaccine-preventable diseases.

‘WE STILL GET OUR INJECTIONS’

Dr Siti Hasmah said everyone, all races, young and old, must be vaccinated against diseases.

“I must tell you that the public think that Dr Mahathir and I, at our age, no longer need vaccines. Till today, we still get our injections. Don’t assume that at our age, we don’t need vaccination. Every year, we take a vaccination against new influenza virus.”

She also made a personal plea to all women, especially those 30 years old and above, to go for annual medical and physical check-ups.

“You have to be healthy to take care of your husband and children. Go for the mammogram and cervical check-up. Seek treatment early.”

Dr Siti Hasmah herself has had first-hand experience dealing with mothers who seek treatment late.


Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali at their wedding ceremony in 1956.

“They would be afraid to go to the hospital. And when they do, it would already be too late,” she said, recalling the time she had to tell a patient’s family of her death.

She couldn’t save the patient’s life because it was already too late to do anything.

She said she was still trying to persuade the authorities to get mammogram equipment that was “friendly” to women.

Many have complained of mammogram equipment that “pinched” the breasts.

There are now 3D scanners that make mammogram tests less painful.

Even a cervical check-up or pap smear could easily be done now by women themselves.

Results could be obtained within 24 hours via WhatsApp.

Dr Siti Hasmah said she played a role to make sure her husband was healthy.

“My husband tends to be more relaxed about his own health. I am particularly concerned if he develops a sore throat. I will get the doctor to administer steam inhalation for one or two days to cure the sore throat and to make sure his lungs are clear. If not, he will start coughing and it will worsen.

“But (another way) to keep him (Dr Mahathir) healthy is not to meddle in his work,” she joked.

DISCIPLINE STARTS FROM HOME

Dr Siti Hasmah believes discipline starts at home. Parents have to train their young to be respectful of their elders. Teachers, too, can train and discipline the children.

She said parenting styles may have changed, but discipline is something that parents will have to look into. There is no cookie-cutter approach to parenting as families differ from one another, but parents still need to have control over their children.

She shared that she learned about respecting others from her own family.

“I was No. 6 among 10 siblings. I have brothers above me who I respect and I have those below me who respect me.”

She recalled her own parents as being disciplinarians.

“Those days, parents didn’t express their affection for you. You know that they have their favourite child, but they don’t show it in front of the other children.

“(But if there is a problem) I remember my father calling all 10 of us. He would sit on the bed and would ask us to sit around him and he would talk to us.

“(Tun) Dr Mahathir (Mohamad) does this. He would call all the children, tell them what wrong they had done and he would mete out the punishment in front of everyone so that they would learn from it.”

Back then, the cane was the instrument used by parents to punish their children.

Until today, Dr Siti Hasmah could remember the pain the cane inflicted on her for something she had done wrong.

“There was an Indian man who came to the house to sell tauhu bakar. My brother, who was my accomplice, and I took it without paying. Another brother saw us. He called out to our mother.

“I can still hear my father’s footsteps till today, him coming out of the house, with a cane in hand, and he punished us. That was the only time I was caned. I remember it to this day.”

RAYA TRADITION

The Mahathir-Siti Hasmah clan has its own family tradition, which is probably similar to other Malay families.

“We used to have everyone home, but there are grandchildren who are studying overseas, two are in the United States
and two others in the United Kingdom. But we try to get everyone home on the first day of Syawal.

“They will be at home, waiting for us to return from the prayers and Istana Negara. They will line up, the children first, from the eldest to the youngest, with their husbands and wives, followed by their children.

“They will, in a single file, kneel in front of Dr Mahathir, beg for forgiveness, kiss his hand and move on to me.

“They will then occupy the empty seats next to me.

“This will ensure that everyone will not be missed. And the grandchildren will eventually become ‘rich’ as they are given duit Raya packets.”

She said the grandchildren used to line up according to their family groupings, but of late, they do it according to age.

“This is confusing for me, especially since I would be grappling with the packets. Some are given in ringgit denominations, while those studying in the US will get US dollars and in the UK, in pounds. (Datin Seri) Marina (Mahathir) would prompt me.”

Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali says she doesn’t understand why parents would deny vaccination to their children.