There has to be a transparent and comprehensive enquiry and investigation into two recent cases of death in Sarawak, allegedly due to the lack of access of health care services in their respective areas.
The first case involves a baby allegedly died in its mother’s arms while travelling on a bus from Julau to Kuching for treatment. The other was an elderly woman from Lawas who died before an ambulance that was supposed to send her to hospital could go through the gate of Sungai Tujoh Immigration, Customs, Quarantine and Security (ICQS).
It is saddening that in this day and age, we still hear of such cases where there are people, especially in the rural areas, who are deprived of their right to quality health care. This is a clear symptom of long-term under-investment and neglect in our health care services, especially in rural areas.
However, to properly address this issue, we need to address the different social determinants of health (SDoH), which includes addressing poverty, providing basic amenities, equitable development and many others which may not only fall under the Ministry of Health.
That is why, moving forward to resolve health inequities, there has to be a comprehensive federal-state inter-ministry and inter-agency framework to come up with a holistic blueprint to properly address all the different social determinants of health so that no one is left behind.
I hope the new Health Minister and Deputy Minister will spearhead these inter-governmental agencies to first and foremost, identify issues and then allocate the necessary resources to better equip the healthcare facilities in rural areas, and also ensure development in the surrounding ecosystem.
Then, it is important to firstly give all the necessary support to existing health care staff in the area, and then ensuring that these facilities have the necessary specialists and manpower, and even basic amenities and development so that even in cases of emergency, patient transfers can be done in the most efficient manner without unnecessary hurdles.
All this requires political will and more importantly, for ministries not to work in silos anymore.
We may need to “re-think” how we do health care, especially in rural areas, as we want to ensure that all Malaysians will get access to quality universal health care and such incidents do not happen again.
No babies in a country with supposed universal health care coverage should die in their mother’s arms on the way to the hospital.
Dr Kelvin Yii is the Member of Parliament for Bandar Kuching.
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