Siti Hasmah, 58, the wife of the Malaysian prime minister, is also a medical doctor and the mother of seven children, age 13 months to 28 years (the two youngest are adopted). "We love children," she said yesterday from her suite at the Regent. "We could have had 10, but in the state I was working they elected me chairman of our family planning association . . . "
In her flowing native pink gown, with gold butterfly-like pins holding up her hair, Siti Hasmah is not the traditional political wife. She's a specialist in prenatal and maternal health care, and in 1965 she was appointed the country's first female medical officer. She says she practiced medicine until 1979, adding, "I miss delivering babies."
She said she decided to come to the United States because Nancy Reagan's invitation "attracted my husband and me."
"Drug abuse is a serious problem in our country," she said. "It's not a recent thing with us. In the 1930s, it started when people were using opium for medicinal purposes. After that, it began to change and it was no longer the older people who were using it, but the younger. By the 1960s it was no longer a social problem, but what we consider a security problem."
Hasmah said 63 percent of her country's abusers are between 20 and 29, and expressed concern that the "drug menace can definitely affect the security of our country by destroying its social fabric and the continuity of our development. We think the drug problem is a major threat."
She explained that Malaysia is also a popular pass-through for drug transport in Asia. "Malaysia has been used as a transit center for drug trafficking," she said. "In the meantime, all our young people get caught."
She said the main thing she hopes to learn in the next two days is a way to draw in the parents of drug dependents in Malaysia.
"It has been stressed in the letters to us from Nancy Reagan that there would be no resolutions, no suggestions, but merely a chance to listen to what is happening in the United States, and to learn about the organizations of mothers formed to help drug dependents. If I bring a suggestion back, it would be that the women's organization come forward with a concerted effort."