Monday, June 12, 2006

Unicef recognises healthcare plan

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: Basic health care is now available in the far-flung longhouses of Sarawak, thanks to a Government initiative that has got the world’s attention.
Under the programme, two people from each longhouse are trained in basic healthcare and sent back as "medical ambassadors from the outside world".
Now, instead of braving long boat journeys that can take up to 10 hours, people who were once cut off from any form of modern medical care can pop in to see their " longhouse doctor" for checkups or whenever they feel poorly.
Common ailments are dealt with on the spot, while more complicated ones are referred to clinics in the nearest towns.
"Our Sarawak village health promoters’ (VHP) programme is something we’re very proud of," said the Health Ministry’s family health development director, Dr Narimah Awin.
"We have reached out to 300,000 previously unreachable people in 900 remote longhouses.
"There are more than 2,500 trained and dedicated VHPs in the field now."
There are more reasons to be proud. Ninety per cent of the country’s population now live no further than 5km from a health facility.
The remaining 10 per cent, largely consisting of the indigenous people in Sabah and Sarawak, now have the VHP programme to close the gap.
The programme was highlighted in the United Nations Children’s Fund’s (Unicef) annual flagship report "State of the World’s Children", a reference which makes its way into government and non-governmental organisation offices around the world.
More recently, it was nominated for the UN Public Service Award 2006, an international excellence award that recognises projects that enhance the role, prestige and visibility of public service.
By the 1980s, the Ministry of Health had made inroads into Sabah and Sarawak through the "flying doctor" service, mobile clinics and subsidiary clinics.
These, however, were sessional and expensive.
The VHP programme, which began in 1983, overcame these shortcomings.
It has since proven to be one of the most successful models for community empowerment in bringing health care to hard-to-reach communities.
The low cost is definitely a plus point.
Being purely voluntary, Dr Narimah said, it cost about RM200,000 a year to run the programme, which was 70 sen per person per year.
Also, no one knows the people like the people themselves.
"Being part of the village community, our volunteers have an understanding of local needs like no city doctor can have."
VHPs are recommended by their tuai rumah (longhouse headmen) and they attend a two-week intensive course conducted at local health offices in batches of 20 to 30.
They are taught, among other things, to identify and treat 33 common ailments such as fevers, coughs and colds, run regular medical checkups, take blood films and run health and hygiene campaigns.
Trained medical officers from the Ministry of Health make monthly trips to participating longhouses to find out how the volunteers are faring and replenish their stocks of medicine and pamphlets.
Every three years, volunteers attend refresher courses.
Dr Narimah said these journeys into the interior were long, tiring and hazardous.
"What motivates our people? Salaries for medical assistants are not high. Volunteers are not paid.
"I think it’s simply commitment to the community."

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