The Health | November , 2020
| Covid-19 |
The dire need to upgrade health infrastructure in Sabah
Shortage of facilities during the pandemic has also led to those with other chronic diseases being unable to receive the desired treatment
BY AMANDA YEO
Although the Ministry of Health ( MoH ) is increasing the total bed capacity and mobilise hundreds of healthcare personnel from other states to manage the escalating number of Covid-19 cases in Sabah , the poor health infrastructure problem that has persisted in the State for decades should be resolved by the current government in the long term .
Till today , more than a third of Sabah ’ s population continue to live beyond five km of any kind of health facility . Due to a lack of specialists and medical equipment , patients seeking treatment or follow up treatment are often forced to refer to another public hospital that could
Hopefully , when the pandemic is under control or over , more Sabahans can get access to good healthcare services via the State government providing new health facilities , upgrading existing facilities throughout the state and forming Skim Sihat Sabah .” cater to their respective medical needs .
To-date there are 24 state hospitals and 300 government health clinics throughout Sabah but it is still not sufficient . Even in the case of medical emergencies , they have to travel across state borders . This includes driving through muddy , uneven roads besides having a boat ride at their own expense , which is relatively costly and time-consuming .
As the official ratio of doctors to the population is 1:856 ( one doctor for every 856 people ) in Sabah , which shows much fewer doctors per people in Sabah than the nationwide average of 1:454 , this poses further challenges to the hospitals and frontliners when over hundreds of Covid-19 cases are being reported in the State every single day .
Sabah had record breaking numbers of daily infections three days in a row with the Oct 18 number at 702 . Also , the total number of deaths in the State stood at 61 as this date .
Frontliners struggling to cope
In addition , a stark number of unlinked cases , which show no clear ties to other infected patients , have enhanced the difficulties of the MoH to identify the clusters and conduct contact tracing .
However , unlinked cases have gone down to 81 per cent of new cases as of Oct 18 , – still quite high by any normal standard – after reaching 17 percent of new cases on Oct 1 and 91 per cent on Oct 7 .
In addition , the frontliners are also struggling to cope with the increasing number of Covid-19 patients .
It was even worse when 85 healthcare workers in Sabah had been infected with Covid-19 in just 10 days since the start of October . This forced healthy frontliners to work extra hours continuously for more than 24 hours to compensate for the healthcare workers ’ shortage , particularly in Kota Kinabalu , Sandakan , Lahad Datu , Semporna and Tawau Hospital .
As many of the hospitals in Sabah are understaffed , stable coronavirus patients in Semporna and Lahad Datu were decanted to public housing flats whilst Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan public hospitals shuttered specialist clinics .
This led to some patients with chronic diseases unable to receive the desired treatment . Recent sources revealed that several deaths were recorded among this group of patients , which is of course not included in the Covid-19 death statistics .
Hopefully , when the pandemic is under control or over , more Sabahans can get access to good healthcare services via the State government providing new health facilities , upgrading existing facilities throughout the state and forming Skim Sihat Sabah for needy individuals to gain access to healthcare services as promised by the Gabungan Rakyat Sabah ( GRS ) in its Aku Janji Pledge during the recent State elections .
Flattening the pandemic curve
It is also timely for the Sabah government to improve the coverage of primary healthcare in the remote areas with the provision of mobile clinics and the reintroduction of the flying doctor service - terminated by the Sabah Health Department in 2016 - for the convenience of rural Sabahans .
Hopefully , things will get better from now with the news that Sabah Chief Minister , Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor had recovered from Covid-19 . It is important Sabahans to receive clear and speedy information on the latest Covid-19 situation at both the district and subdistrict levels on a daily basis This would strengthen the State healthcare system amidst the Covid-19 pandemic while reducing fear among Sabahans .
In addition , the State government also needs to adopt the “ whole of government , the whole of society approach ” during this pandemic outbreak , as emphasised frequently by Health Director-General Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah .
Therefore , now is the time for the State government to work closely with health professionals , respected local leaders , the private sector and NGOs to flatten the pandemic curve in Sabah once again .
Once the pandemic is under control , the State government should continue advocating the health agenda by requesting more funds from the Federal government for Sabahans to enjoy better healthcare facilities locally .
With better health infrastructure , the physical , mental and social well-being of Sabahans would be prioritised . At the same time , Sabah would be more prepared to face the possible emergence of another pandemic in the future . — The Health
Amanda Yeo is Research Analyst at EMIR Research , an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research .