Healthcare for Sarawakians: Does Putrajaya care?

The goal of real healthcare reform must be high-quality, universal coverage in a cost-effective way
– Bernie Sanders, American politician

Healthcare provided to you and your family by hospitals is an essential service by the government.

I’m sure those of you who have availed yourselves to the healthcare at various clinics, polyclinics, specialist centres and hospitals appreciate the care and professionalism from the doctors, nurses and other related professionals.

This is despite the limited facilities and funding available to Sarawakians for such services.

Ensuring the wellbeing of Sarawakians of all ages in our villages, towns and cities must be a priority.

This is important, not only for the sake of our families but also for the sake of Sarawak. A healthy and productive population is essential for prosperity, industrialisation, development and sustainability.

Although there have been gradual improvements over the years, much more needs to be done and at a much faster rate.

More sincere efforts need to be made by our federal government to make sure we have an effective and efficient healthcare system.

After all, the Malaysian government has committed itself to the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations.

These goals are the blueprint to achieving a better and more sustainable future. One of the 17 goals is Goal 3 — the Good Health and Wellbeing of people that envision participating nations achieving the aims stated in it by 2030.

Surely Sarawak should not be left behind again.

Significant progress can be made in this aspect if only a more focused and committed approach was taken. The mindset of the federal government towards Sarawakians must change, to show that Sarawakian lives matter and should not be held hostage due to politics.

There are various levels of healthcare that need enhancing, the main one being primary healthcare.

This generally refers to the first point of contact with patients. Some examples being emergency rooms, consultations with doctors and other healthcare professionals.

Fast service and short appointment time can help to alleviate many subsequent medical issues at this stage.

There are other aspects, which are just as important such as secondary healthcare, tertiary healthcare and public healthcare.

The ‘we will look into it’ approach without delivery must stop. The construction of hospitals and clinics can take a long time depending on their size.

Let’s take a 300-bed hospital. Not including the planning time and various other bureaucratic and financial procedures, this can take five years. Another one year can be added to install the medical fixtures and fittings before being commissioned for use.

Therefore, if such a hospital starts construction today, it will only be ready by 2026 end (if there are no delays!). This type of long timeline indicates the importance of urgent action.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2011 reported that there was a global ageing population. In this report, they identified “an increasing number of older adults at greater risk of chronic non-communicable diseases, rapidly increasing demand for primary care services expected in both developed and developing countries”.

It is therefore timely that New Sarawak Tribune reported last week that Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development minister Datuk Seri Fatimah Abdullah said a ‘Golden Card’ had been mooted as an identification for elderly citizens by the Family and Women Council committee.

She said among the benefits of the card was “the ease to obtain treatment for the elderly at government and private hospitals and clinics”.

Fatimah also said Sarawak was expected to have a significant number of people aged 65 and above in 2030.

This would mean between 15 and 16 per cent of the population here. They will surely need more support and care.

It’s good to see that the Sarawak government is at least taking steps within its means to prepare for this.

This is in contrast to the statements made at the Sarawak Day dinner celebration recently by Sarawak Pakatan Harapan (PH), where they said that “if Sarawakians want a state government that has a good relation with the federal government, then PH is definitely the right choice for Sarawakians in the coming state election.”

Does this imply that if we want better healthcare, we need to vote into power Malayan-based parties? Surely this is holding the health and lives of Sarawakians hostage due to a negative form of politics.

It is indeed sad to see that some Sarawakians have formed an “unholy, blind and strong allegiance” to these Malayan parties.

It was also mentioned at this Sarawak Day event that Sarawak’s ruling government Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) has isolated Sarawak. I’m sure that most Sarawakians would agree that Sarawak has not isolated itself.

In fact, it’s Malaya that seems to have discarded and isolated Sarawak and its people from development and prosperity.

It’s precisely this negative type of approach that Sarawak has to take the ‘Sarawak First’ approach to redress the balance and promote prosperity in Sarawak despite them taking away our oil and gas revenues.

It would seem that we would also have to take measures to ensure better healthcare here — although this is a federal responsibility.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.