Hornbill Unleashed

October 16, 2016

Grounding the flying doctor service

Filed under: Politics — Hornbill Unleashed @ 9:02 PM

Are Sabahans very submissive people? The termination of their Flying Doctor Service could at best be described as a muzzled whimper.

Apart from some noises from some aspiring or politician wannabes, the reaction of the Umno-led state government was deafeningly silent.

So are their elected representatives, who must have made a mountain of promise during election time to look after their welfare.

Or were Sabahans just being practical by not making a fuss because they already know the reason without even being told?

For 41 years, the FDS had been a crucial medical lifeline for people living in remote pockets of the state.

The only official explanation Sabahans got so far was a rather vague one from the state health director Datuk Dr Christina Rundi.

She said rising costs of the service was the reason why the service was terminated.

It was reported that in 2006, the federal government spent an estimated RM5.1 million a year in Sarawak.

Taking that as a yardstick, plus inflation and since Sabah is a much, much smaller country than Sarawak, the cost to run the service could be much lower.

But then again, are the state’s rural folks not entitled to the same basic health services like those in the urban areas, no matter what the cost?

Is rising cost a good reason to terminate the service and leave those who need it most to fend for themselves?

What has happened to the government’s obligation to provide free medical and health services to the people irrespective where they live?

When the FDS was introduced in 1975, the general philosophy was to bring medical and health care, whether it is promotive, preventive, curative and rehabilitative care, to the pockets of population in remote villages that are not accessible by land and river and no access to medical facilities.

It is for these reasons that the FDS was born.

In Sabah, like in Sarawak, the monthly trip of the FDS mobile clinic to rural settlements is akin to Santa Clause coming at Christmas.

There is great excitement and something these rural villagers all looked forward to.

Such was their excitement that in many cases, the whole village would turn out to help the FDS doctors and nurses carry their medical supplies and equipment from the helicopter to the longhouse so they could be looked to by the doctors quickly.

By ditching the FDS, the government is basically telling these rural poor to fend for themselves as the government is no longer going to them.

Even if they could help themselves, a trip by river to the nearest health clinic could cost them a fortune and probably several days.

Their outboard engine needs petrol and for people who live off the land and have very little cash, its just prohibitive to take the trip.

In much larger neighbouring Sarawak, there have been cases that such a return trip could cost a few hundred ringgit in petrol and other incidental expenses like food and lodging.

Such a trip could take days if their outboard engine is small and river flow is swift like during the monsoon season.

Now that the FDS is no longer there, are we expecting the birth deaths among Sabah’s rural poor to spike as the service also attend to medical emergencies such as childbirth.

The Sabah Health Department director in her explanation also talked about her department intensifying provision of its medical services via land and water.

Is she saying that the FDS is no longer need as after 41 years, all remote settlements in the state could be easily reached by road and water and the mobile clinics by road and water would be less expensive?

Dr Christina also said the decision to stop the service was due to the “high frequency of trip cancellations” due to bad weather and technical problems involving the aircraft.

While she does admittedly not have control over the weather, she at least does have with the company contracted to provide the aircraft.

If, as Dr Christina claimed, the company could not keep their aircraft flying “due to technical problems”, then why not cite the company for defaulting on their contract, chuck them and look for another?

Why chuck the rural poor instead?

She also said the FDS cancellation only involves the mobile clinic but patient transfers and emergency case services using helicopters will be continued.

That’s like saying “don’t fall badly sick when the weather is bad or when the aircraft is grounded due to technical problems”.

Sabahans are now watching with keenness what would be in store for them in the coming Budget. Will there be more unwanted surprises?

Laja Lang

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