`The Story of Kam Agong’

By Ng Ai Fern

IN modern days, childbirth or delivery complications are still killing many women, and that is exactly the case for women living in the interior of resource-rich Sarawak.

Sixteen years after the death of Kam Agong, who died due to medical negligence after a c-section with complications in Lawas, the fear of maternal death is still prevalent.

“There is a 24-year-old girl expecting twins in Lawas. In the event there is a complication and, she starts bleeding, the only hospital she can go to is Lawas District Hospital.

“They (Lawas District Hospital) don’t have a gynae, and she has to travel to Miri, which is five hours and eight checkpoints away before she can reach Miri Hospital. How is she going to survive?” asked Lawrence Jayaraj.

Screen shot of the documentary.

And this was what happened to Kam Agong, Lawrence told DayakDaily, who produced a 28-minute documentary `The Story of Kam Agong’ depicting the death of his mother-in-law.

Relating the painful incident, Lawrence said the doctor who performed the cesarean on Kam Agong was inexperienced, and she started bleeding after returning home to Long Semadoh, a village in the remote Ba’Kelalan highlands of northern Sarawak.

Kam Agong went back to the hospital three weeks later. She was admitted but discharged in a hurry despite having an infection, and no specialist was called in to examine her.  She bled to death in her village later.

“After Kam Agong died, we came back from Kuala Lumpur for her funeral. I saw her lying down there. We went through medical documents and found out what went wrong. So this was what happened?” Lawrence asked.

Since then, the family has been fighting for better maternity healthcare for Lawas and also throughout Sarawak.

The poster of ‘The Story of Kam Agong”.
An old photo of Kam Agong with her children.

“We have campaigned many different ways to the authorities, but nothing happened.”

Lawrence got a grant from Freedom Film Festival to produce the documentary, hoping to highlight the issue.

The film starts with the difficult journey from Miri to Lawas and meeting the family. Agnes Padan, Kam Agong’s daughter and Lawrence’s wife, will narrate what had happened to her mother and about the hospital. Lawrence will then relate how they went to court and won the case.
They got their justice when they successfully sued the hospital for medical negligence in 2008.

But the lack of improvement on maternity healthcare in rural Sarawak and lack of statistics on maternal death infuriated Lawrence.

Agnes Padan.
The family of Kam Agong hope Lawas district hospital can have necessary equipment and a specialist.

“We want Lawas District Hospital to be equipped with the necessary equipment, and a gynaecologist to be stationed there.”

But the promised Lawas hospital with more beds and necessary equipment never materialised.

Name every leader, from the kampung to the state level from both political divides, Lawrence said he approached them all, but nothing was done.

“Nobody has done anything. Nobody has voiced out anything for better maternity care in Sarawak, especially in Lawas, because of the connectivity, pregnant women cannot take flight, no passport how to travel to Miri? Cost of travelling is another issue.”

When asked about his next course of action after the documentary, Lawrence said he hoped his wife, Agnes, would contest in the next state election, which is due in 2021.

“We are actually preparing the strategy, because no one is screaming, and nobody is talking about the standard of maternity care, especially in Lawas.

“We don’t want the tragedy of Kam Agong to be repeated”, he emphasized.

The trailer of the film was shared with DayakDaily. The film will be aired during the Kuching edition of FreedomFilmFest 2018 on Oct 27 at Lot 10 Boutique Hotel from 1.30am to 5pm.

FFF is an international human rights documentary film festival held annually in Malaysia.

The 16th edition of the FreedomFilmFest is a call to action to `Mend The Gap’. Despite progress in science, technology and democracy, the gaps between the rich and poor, the have and have nots, the powerful and the powerless are getting deeper and wider.

This year’s FFF film grant recipients tackle three areas in Malaysia that require immediate attention. The education of stateless children in Sabah (`Aku Mau Skola’ — `I Want To Go To School’ by Putri Purnama Sagua), adequate maternal healthcare in rural Sarawak (`The Story of Kam Agong’ by Lawrence Jayaraj) and the rights of the differently abled to an independent and dignified life (`In The Dark’ by Low Watan). — DayakDaily