The story of Kam Agong, a mother from Long Semadoh who bled to death after giving birth by C-section at the Lawas District Hospital, the nearest healthcare facility about five hours’ drive, hammers home the lack of access to medical help in remote areas in Sarawak.

For many years, it is common for a Sarawakian living in the remote areas to drive over 10 hours just to have access to medical services at the nearest hospitals.

Norida Suut, a mother of eight-year-old autistic girl Nur Shahirah from Asajaya, has to drive five to six hours, just to ensure her girl attends the therapy services in Kuching.

“She has been undergoing speech operational therapy at Kota Samarahan Public Clinic, twice a week and we need to update her health condition with a psychiatrist at Petra Jaya Polyclinic once every four to six months,” she told New Sarawak Tribune in an exclusive interview recently.

Driving long hours now has become a norm for Norida and her husband.

“I need to ensure my daughter is able to learn life skills; at least she can look after herself in the future,” she added.

“The traffic congestion has also further complicated matters. As for now, she is only able to attend psychotherapy services for special needs students (MBK) at Sarawak Special Education Service Centre (3PK) in Special Education School (SKPK) in Matang, Kuching once a week.

“We have no choice since access to specialist healthcare is very limited in a rural area like mine, which is far from town,” she explained.

She said now mothers like her must try to get the authorities to address the issue. And if things do not improve, then people should vote their elected representatives out and push for their basic healthcare rights.

“Honestly, if you ask me whether the therapy is adequate to help my daughter’s Iife skills, I would say ‘no’.

“We are not getting younger, because as she grows up, she will become more aggressive,” she said.

“Therefore I really hope that the government could help us and take immediate action.”

A parent of 19-year-old Adib who has been diagnosed with ASD, Rahman Edin said his son had been called names by the villagers in Asajaya.

According to Rahman, Adib has frequently displayed his aggressive behaviour, especially when he is emotionally unstable.

“While playing, sometimes he might go to someone’s house to ask for rice.

“When we asked him why, he would simply say that he was hungry,” he said.

When asked if Adib had ever enrolled himself for special education programme, Rahman said they could not afford to send him to the therapy centre due to financial constraint.

“It is not that simple. We can’t afford to pay travel expenses although some people would say Kuching is very near.

“Although we can’t afford to provide therapy service for Adib, my wife and I have always been grateful to have Adib in our life.

“As long as I live and breathe, I will never let Adib go hungry,” Rahman said.

Meanwhile, therapist Abdul Mu’az said that one of the main challenges in building specialist healthcare for special needs individuals in rural areas was the need to produce more therapists.

“Yes, we need to develop more therapy centres for autistic children, but the other thing that we also have to address is to aspire more young people to choose a career in therapy,” he said.

In ensuring a sustainability programme, Mu’az, who works at Sarawak General Hospital, also said it was important to set up a collaborative engagement that helped provide educational centres for these children.

“Personally, we need to gear up efforts and get more commitment from all community groups at all levels to work closely in delivering the right message about autism throughout every region,” he said.