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Sunday, 30 October 2016 00:00

No Road is Too Long, No Place is Too Remote for Medical Outreach

Written by  Ho Sook Yin & Chin Yun Yin, Kota Kinabalu / Translated by Goh Hwe Yong

Medical outreach on a full-scale for remote Kota Marudu saw medical services being delivered to people living in the hilly areas far and away. [Photograph by Ng Wei Kiat]

More than 400 Tzu Chi volunteers and medical professionals from all over the nation gathered in Kota Marudu, Sabah, to reach out to people living in the remote areas far in the hills with medical care. A total of 2,426 people received medical care from 7.30 am to 3 pm that day.


The 120 km journey by road from Kota Kinabalu to Kota Marudu took two hours. It was a long and winding road through the hills, with typical rural scenes that transcended from bustles to quietness. As the journey extended into the foothill areas of Mount Kinabalu, signs of jungle clearing by burning became more obvious. All was quiet, except for the noise of vehicles dashing by.

From Kota Marudu, the 400-strong outreach team had to hop onto 75 vans and four-wheel drives to journey through the hilly roads to arrive at the actual site of the outreach – SK Samparita. These 4-wheel drives normally serve as taxis plying between habitats deep in the hills and the town centre, where villagers get their daily supplies, seek doctors’ consultations, and meet with government officers. The one-way trip would cost RM2.50.

Free clinics for the sick

In Sabah, a full-scale medical outreach programme by Tzu Chi was first carried out in 1988 in Lampada. Following that, several others were held in Pitas and surrounding townships. As the safety of volunteers became a concern, a full-scale outreach programme was discontinued in 2004, though free clinics continued to be carried out in several outskirts towns of Kota Kinabalu. However, medical care for the local people in the remote hills is always on the minds of the Sabah volunteers.

Then in 2015, at the invitation of Tzu Chi volunteers, a few hospital superintendents and government health officers attended the annual TIMA Convention in Hualien, Taiwan. What they witnessed and heard at the Convention deeply touched their souls; and carrying out the medical outreach programme has become a vision they shared. The health officer from Kota Marudu, Dr Omar Kwang Kugan, was especially enthusiastic about it.

So, as early as June 2016, and to ensure that the medical outreach programme could run smoothly after a long break of 12 years, volunteers went to several schools to look for a proper venue for holding the free clinics. SK Samparita was eventually chosen. In the mean time, volunteers held tea parties to mobilize the local Chinese community, as well as, doctors, nurses and paramedics to take part in the upcoming event.

The outreach team and volunteers started the journey from Marudu at 6 am on October 30, 2016. An hour later, they arrived at the site to see long queues of people waiting outside the school under the strong morning sun. Tents were quickly set up to shelter them from the heat of the sun. According to Joseph Lee, Event Coordinator, the huge crowd comprised of people from 12 of the 166 villages around Kota Marudu, which was less than 10% of the total.

Guardians of health in action

The free clinics provided dental services, general consultations, pharmaceutical dispensary, minor surgeries, TCM treatments, physiotherapy, pap smears, de-worming, blood pressure, sugar and BMI checks, TB and malaria scans, lice treatment, as well as, haircut services. Six other sub-sites at more remote villages were simultaneously set up to serve people farther away; and home visits were made according to individual situations.

The crowd at the registration point was huge; teachers and local volunteers took charge of registration for easier communication in the local Dusun dialect. After checks and scans, patients were led to relevant clinics to wait for their turn to see the doctors. As they waited, the Tzu Chi youths led interesting team activities for entertainment and information. Breakfast was also served for those in need of one.

A smiling Dr Omar Kwang said that due to inefficient transport service, medical emergency has always been a great challenge. Going into labour on the way to hospital, and difficult labour leading to death of pregnant mothers, had happened before. Thus, he requested for the outreach programme to enable the native people to receive medical care.

To each his need

Except for giving birth at the hospital to her daughter five years ago, Larina Mayun never made any ante-maternal or post-maternal visit to the hospital due to the long journey. That very day, she and her lady friends arrived at the free clinic to have pap smears done. With that, she felt that her health was taken care of, and became less worried.

An on-site accident happened to a villager, who carelessly stepped on a nail, causing profuse bleeding. He was immediately treated. He felt blessed with the free clinic because if he was injured at home, he could only use some medicinal herbs or oil to dress the wound and stop the bleeding. Though still in pain, he waited for his turn on other medical checks, specifically cataract check.

There was a 10-year-old patient who had a birth defect of the spine. He could only walk with the aid of a walking stick, and at home, he wriggles on the floor. His father wished that Tzu Chi could provide his son with a set of specifically-designed walking aid to help him walk, so that he does not have to confine himself in the house all the time.

This request was noted, and a few volunteers followed the father and son to their home. They wanted to install hand rails around the house to facilitate the child’s movements. After the rails were installed, the child tried them out, and he smiled broadly. What a beautiful sight!

According to Dr Huang Jing Yan, for the boy to crawl on his abdomen would damage his knees in the long run. The rails installed not only assisted his movements greatly, but it would also strengthen his leg muscles.

Creative invention benefitted villagers

At the dental clinic, a dental machine suddenly broke down due to overheating after extended use. Volunteers managed to get a generator shortly after and the dental services were not disrupted.

The dental machine in question was brought over from Taiwan by Taiwanese volunteers for use at this outreach. It was a fifth generation machine that had been improved upon to work more efficiently. It has been used in other outreach programmes in many South-east Asia countries, and also in Jordan during the international relief.

A surprise to the volunteers and doctors, TCM treatments were well-accepted by the villagers. They gave acupuncture a thumbs-up after treatment. As the villagers had to traverse the uneven and hilly terrains, aching joints are common among them.

TCM’s doctor, Nai Keng Hak informed that as a single treatment would not be effective, the patients were given the herbal sticks to carry out their own follow-up treatments at home. For safety reason, medical volunteers even devised a simple applicator out of PET bottles for the self-treatment. The herbal sticks were the best gift for these patients.

Local resources for long-term health care to villagers

Besides the free clinics, special on-site services were simultaneously provided by officers from the Department of National Registration, and the Ministry of Welfare to help people apply for IC or welfare aid. Medical assistants from government hospitals were also assisted in eye checks, and TB and malaria tests. Clearly, the authorities were placing great importance on the outreach programme.

Another remarkable feature of this event was that more than half of the medical volunteers involved were either locals or those stationed in East Malaysia as health care providers. According to Liew Nyuk Jin, apart from medical consultations, the outreach programme also placed emphasis on health scan, illness detection, health education and other related subjects. The aim is to improve the villagers’ life in the long term, which could be achieved only with the support of local human resources.

Vincent Ang is an example. He was posted to Tandek to work in a government clinic eight months ago, after graduating from the International Medical University. Tzu Chi was no stranger to him as he had attended a tea party for a briefing on the free clinic earlier on. He has a deep impression of Tzu Chi and its volunteers, dubbed “the blue angels”, who always appear at scenes of disasters in their blue shirt and white pant.

He expressed that as there was a shortage of pharmaceutical drugs in this part of the country, he had to deal with many people to overcome the problem; and in the process, he learnt a lot. To him, taking part in free clinics meant happiness and bliss.

Dr Fu Hui Mei graduated from a medical university in Indonesia. She wanted to work in Indonesia at first, but her friends reminded her that her specialized skill was much needed in Sabah. So, she returned to Sabah to work as a Paediatrician in a government hospital at Likas. She was later invited by TIMA doctor, Qiu Shi De, to participate in this outreach programme. She felt fortunate to have taken part and served the villagers.

Tan Hoan Yan from Kuching, Sarawak, is a retired government nurse. She participated in a free clinic held by Tzu Chi back in 2001 but had stopped joining due to language barrier. It was only in 2012 following the set-up of the English group that she joined TIMA again. She was impressed by Tzu Chi’s culture of humanity which holds great respect and gratitude towards patients.



Ong Tuen Yiok, one of the coordinators, was thankful that volunteers across Malaysia had gathered in Sabah to shower love on 2,426 people in the remote part of Sabah, making the 7th free clinic a successful mission.

 

The medical convoy overcame all obstacles to arrive at SK Samparita to bring medical care to the people in remote villages. [Photograph by Leong Chian Yee]   Joseph Lee led all volunteers in the singing of “Love and Care for All” prior to the start of the free clinics. [Photograph by Leong Chian Yee]

The medical convoy overcame all obstacles to arrive at SK Samparita to bring medical care to the people in remote villages. [Photograph by Leong Chian Yee]
 
Joseph Lee led all volunteers in the singing of “Love and Care for All” prior to the start of the free clinics. [Photograph by Leong Chian Yee]
 
The huge crowd gathered at the registration point early in the morning. [Photograph by Leong Chian Yee]   Dr Omar Kwang Kugan (centre), a government health officer in Kota Marudu, played an active role in facilitating the outreach programme. On his right is Tan Soon Hock from Tzu Chi KL & Selangor and left, Joseph Lee, the Event Coordinator. [Photograph by Ng Wei Kiat]

The huge crowd gathered at the registration point early in the morning. [Photograph by Leong Chian Yee]
 
 
Dr Omar Kwang Kugan (centre), a government health officer in Kota Marudu, played an active role in facilitating the outreach programme. On his right is Tan Soon Hock from Tzu Chi KL & Selangor and left, Joseph Lee, the Event Coordinator. [Photograph by Ng Wei Kiat]
 
Zhou Jin Yan from Taiwan (right) brought with him a fifth generation dental equipment set for scaling by dentists. [Photograph by Leong Chian Yee]   TCM doctor, Nai Keng Hak gave consultation to the Headmaster of SK Samparita. The Headmaster expressed his wish for Tzu Chi to continue with the outreach programme to benefit more villagers. [Photograph by Leong Chian Yee]

Zhou Jin Yan from Taiwan (right) brought with him a fifth generation dental equipment set for scaling by dentists. [Photograph by Leong Chian Yee]
 
 
TCM doctor, Nai Keng Hak gave consultation to the Headmaster of SK Samparita. The Headmaster expressed his wish for Tzu Chi to continue with the outreach programme to benefit more villagers. [Photograph by Leong Chian Yee]
 
A villager accidentally stepped on a nail, causing profuse bleeding from his foot. He was given immediate treatment. [Photograph by Leong Chian Yee]   Vincent Ang took part for the first time, and felt good to do good; he was glad to have learnt a lot too. [Photograph by Ng Wei Kiat]

A villager accidentally stepped on a nail, causing profuse bleeding from his foot. He was given immediate treatment. [Photograph by Leong Chian Yee]
 
 
Vincent Ang took part for the first time, and felt good to do good; he was glad to have learnt a lot too. [Photograph by Ng Wei Kiat]
 
Paediatrician, Dr Fu Hui Mei was pleased to be able to contribute her skill for the health of the local people. [Photograph by Leong Chian Yee]   Tan Hoan Yan (left) was touched by TIMA culture of humanity through the values of gratitude and respect. [Photograph by Leong Chian Yee]

Paediatrician, Dr Fu Hui Mei was pleased to be able to contribute her skill for the health of the local people. [Photograph by Leong Chian Yee]
 
 
Tan Hoan Yan (left) was touched by TIMA culture of humanity through the values of gratitude and respect. [Photograph by Leong Chian Yee]