Sarawak activist: Polio case reflects weakness in Health Ministry’s planning, provision

Peter John Jaban

KUCHING, Dec 10: Human rights activist Peter John Jaban questions the Health Ministry’s capacity to combat pandemics based on its reaction towards the recent Sabah polio case, the first detected in Malaysia after 27 years.

He slammed Health Minister Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad for the latter’s perceived lack of action in responding to Sabah’s polio case as well as the lack of healthcare facilities in rural Sarawak.

“If there were to be a pandemic of any kind, would the Ministry of Health have any capacity to combat it? They seem to have no ability to track diseases, especially in the rural areas and simply no facility to combat them.

“While there is a vaccination programme for polio, the lack of any real response to the threat of rabies in the Sarawak population calls into question their ability to react to any future pandemics.

“Healthcare provision in Sarawak has been underfunded for decades. It is time that the health of the nation, regardless of region, become a priority again,” Peter John asserted in a press statement today.

A polio case was reported two days ago when a three-month-old boy in Tuaran, Sabah was confirmed to have the disease.

Peter John, said the case has raised issues beyond the disease itself, such as access to information and of emergency preparedness.

He slammed Dr Dzulkefly for being quick to blame ‘foreigners’ or ‘outsiders’ for the problem.

“It means that he doesn’t have to look at his department’s own role in the issue. In fact, this is nothing more than speculation on his part.

“By his own admission, the baby and his family have not travelled. So where did the boy catch it from? This has clearly come from someone already inside the country. So then the questions becomes: why has no case been reported before or why is Dr Dzulkefly not aware of it?” Peter John pointed out.

He also noted Sarawak has been suffering from the rabies epidemic which has taken 20 lives and like in the polio case, Dr Dzulkefly insisted that “it had come from outside”.

“But very quickly it was discovered that the disease was already widespread in the animal population across the state. Clearly, this was not a recent incursion.

“With the rabies outbreak in Sarawak, there have been no moves to vaccinate the population. Instead, residents have to wait to be bitten first before any action is taken. Even for private patients, the vaccination is often simply ‘out of stock.’ Why isn’t the Ministry of Health making sure that sufficient stocks are available?”

Meanwhile, Peter John also highlighted the reality in the Borneo states where availability of hospitals is sorely lacking.

He noted that in many cases, rural residents must travel very far to receive treatment from clinics which are understaffed and lacking in facilities.

Even worse, with a widespread and as yet unaddressed issue of statelessness, many genuine natives and long-term residents of Sabah and Sarawak, are prevented from accessing healthcare.

“How many people are simply dying in their kampung (villages) before these diseases are even diagnosed? This is why healthcare should be equally available to all who live within Malaysia, not just as a question of our humanity but also because we are all human. Diseases do not respect borders and they determine us to all be of the same species, regardless of whether we have an IC or not.”

To him, the only policy that the Ministry of Health seems to be pursuing with any real passion is the ‘poorly planned’ ban on smoking, which has seen sales in coffeeshops plummet while a coffeeshop owner he knows has been waiting months for a dialysis machine, paying every month instead for private treatment out of his heavily reduced income.

“The advice to him was that he had to wait for someone to die so that he could get his treatment,” claimed Peter John. — DayakDaily