Sabah Won’t Impose 10km-Rule For Health Care, Sarawak MP Wants Exemption Too

Sarawak and Sabah are the two biggest states in Malaysia, with main specialist hospitals located in the capital.

KUALA LUMPUR, April 2 — The Sabah state government said it would not apply a federal regulation restricting people from travelling beyond 10km for medical treatment, amid the Covid-19 epidemic.

Sabah Health and People’s Wellbeing Minister Frankie Poon Ming Fung said it was not feasible to impose the regulation because Sabah was the second-biggest state in Malaysia after Sarawak.

“Government facilities for treatment of patients with stage 3 and 4 cancer with radiotherapy is only available in Kota Kinabalu Likas Hospital,” Poon told CodeBlue.

“Therefore you can see the adverse impact of such ruling on the respective cancer patients. All kinds of people with such issues from all over Sabah will be adversely affected.

“Director of Health Sabah will give exemptions to these kind of cases. I believe this is only a general guideline with exemptions on case-to-case basis.”

He also said although there are 300 government health clinics throughout Sabah, it is possible that the nearest clinic can be over 10km away from residents.

When asked if certain treatments could be postponed for two weeks, during the duration of the 10km rule under the Movement Control Order (MCO), Poon said it depended on the sub-specialist concerned and the urgency of individual cases.

Health Minister Dr Adham Baba, who is also a general practitioner, gazetted a regulation under the Prevention and Control of Diseases Act 1988 on March 31 that prohibited people from seeking medical treatment or purchasing medicines at facilities located more than 10km from their homes until April 14, the targeted end date of the MCO amid the coronavirus outbreak that has infected over 2,900 people in Malaysia.

The regulation requires people to obtain prior written permission from the police station nearest to their residence if they need to move within a state or do inter-state travel for a “special and particular reason”. Employees who need to move within a state or travel between states to perform their duty in essential services, which include health care, must produce an authorisation letter from their employer if required by the authorities.

Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii speaks at the “Healthcare in East Malaysia: Ensuring that no one is left behind” forum by the Galen Centre for Health & Social Policy in Kuching on December 14, 2019. Picture by Boo Su-Lyn.

Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii, a doctor by training, urged the Ministry of Health to make an exemption for Sarawak.

He pointed out that the majority of Sarawakians live in rural areas, who may need to travel more than 10km to a public health facility, especially hospitals.

“A district clinic may not provide the necessary medical attention or even supplies to these patients, making it a necessity for them to travel further to the hospitals which are normally in the city,” Dr Yii told CodeBlue.

“In an event of an outbreak of an infectious disease, patients do not just make ‘casual trips’ to the hospital due to concerns of catching the virus in a hospital environment, which means that a huge majority, if not all, such trips are of necessity, especially for important follow-ups or treatment, such as for cancer patients or even cardiac patients.”

The DAP lawmaker said the main treatment centres for cancer and heart disease are both located in Kuching, the state capital. People living in northern Sarawak may also need to fly to the southern part of the state for such specialist treatment.

Even Kuching residents themselves may need to travel beyond 10km to the Sarawak Heart Centre in Kota Samarahan.

Dr Yii said the 10km rule could affect follow-up treatment and even medication refilling for patients with non-communicable diseases (NCDs) or other chronic diseases. Pregnant women, especially in the rural areas, seeking prenatal follow-ups would also be affected, including babies scheduled for vaccination.

“That is why I see no reason to add bureaucracy and inconvenience to the public, especially forcing them to crowd around or even register at the police station for such travels beyond 10km for medical attention.

“I believe proper documentation of hospital/clinic appointments or even proper medicine prescription is sufficient to be shown at each roadblocks or inspection for such special consideration to be given to the patients.”

Sarawak Local Government and Housing Minister Dr Sim Kui Hian, a cardiologist, told CodeBlue that the Sarawak Disaster Management Committee would make a statement about this matter at a press conference this afternoon.

He said the only health facilities located within 10km of Sarawakians were in urban centres, not rural areas.

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