The Malaysian healthcare system has grown from strength to strength in the past decade and is slowly on par with developed countries. However, the COVID-19 pandemic once again cast light on the jarring difference between healthcare services in urban and rural areas.
The limbo of getting the population vaccinated in Malaysia has seen some difficulties particularly among marginalised communities such as the rural folks, Orang Asli, the homeless and refugees were at the forefront.
Nonetheless, the pandemic has also increased our awareness and appreciation for our healthcare frontliners who work tirelessly and sacrificially in restoring good health to patients. This year, as the world reopens its borders after surviving the pandemic, we want to remember and celebrate healthcare providers who continue in their calling to treat and care for the sick.
We want to recognise 9 extraordinary and big-hearted healthcare providers who are reducing health inequalities one community at a time.
#1: Dr Abigail Rembui Anak Jerip, A Gynaecologist Helping To Reduce Cervical And Breast Cancer Among Rural Sarawakians
Dr Abigail Rembui Anak Jerip is an Obstetrics & Gynaecology registrar by practice. She splits her time between treating her patients in the Sarawak General Hospital and devoting her time to serving the marginalised women in rural Sarawak through Pink & Teal EmpowHer.
Pink & Teal EmpowHer is a non-governmental organisation helmed by Dr Abigail and co-founder Dr Mardiana Kipli established in June 2018. It aims to increase awareness and screen women for cervical and breast cancer in underserved communities in rural Sarawak.
While cervical cancer is preventable and curable when detected early, the Sarawak General Hospital often receives 1-2 cases weekly at an inoperable state.
Cervical cancer is the top two most common and deadly women’s cancers and the majority of cases in Sarawak are diagnosed at later stages, where survival is less than 40%, despite being 90% preventable. Sarawak boasts the highest cervical cancer rate of 12.1/100,000 while the overall Malaysian rate is at 10.2/100,000 in 2020. – Dr Abigail Jerip
Dr Abigail identifies that the majority of women in rural areas of Sarawak have financial constraints to visit their health clinic for screening.
Due to the poor logistics of the rural community, we understand that it is difficult for women to come for their scheduled PAP smears and so we will meet them where they are most accessible such as at their village and ‘balai raya’ and offer them free cervical screening and also breast cancer screening. – Dr Abigail Rembui Anak Jerip
In 2019 alone, more than 1,000 women were screened for cervical cancer. Those who were found positive for precancerous lesions were provided with early interventions.
The NGO utilises a screening test that provides results at a shorter time of three and a half months as compared to the longer waiting time of six to eight months in government hospitals.
We offer a one-step solution and in the past year (2019) we have screened more than 1,000 women which were 10 times more than the KPI of district health clinics. We identified a significant number of them to have precancerous lesions and have been able to prevent cancer from ravaging her, her family and her community. – Dr Abigail Rembui Anak Jerip
#2: Dato’ Dr Musa Mohd Nordin, A Consultant Neonatologist & Paediatrician Who Fights For All Children To Be Immunised
Dato’ Dr Musa Mohd Nordin has graced the television screens imparting his knowledge on paediatric care. However, he has gained more prominence due to his unflinching criticism and suggestion on COVID-19 management in the earlier days of the pandemic. A familiar face at KPJ Damansara Specialist Hospital’s neonatal and paediatric department, the consultant paediatrician is also an advisor to a local NGO, IMAM Response and Relief Team (IMARET).
Much of my work as a paediatrician is preventative in nature – growth monitoring, assessing developmental milestones, immunisation. As a private paediatrician working in Damansara, a largely affluent community, I don’t see enough of the true spectrum of the Malaysian paediatric population. – Dato’ Dr Musa Mohd Nordin
Through IMARET, Dato Dr Musa is resolute to make healthcare accessible to the marginalised and underprivileged children by providing outreach health services to refugees, children living in kampung and Orang Asli settlements. Part of the bi-weekly outreach clinics is to ensure children are immunised to prevent any outbreak of infectious diseases such as measles.
This outreach stemmed from a fear that was realised in 2019 when a measles outbreak proved fatal in an Orang Asli settlement in Kuala Koh, Kelantan due to incomplete immunisation. Only 61.5% of the villagers received the first MMR (Measles Mumps Rubella) vaccine shot and only 30% completed their second doses.
For the refugee and immigrant children, we run clinics every 2-4 weeks. Immunisation of these children is important as they could otherwise be the potential epicentre for an outbreak! – Dato’ Dr Musa Mohd Nordin
In 2017, Dato Dr Musa was awarded the Lifetime Achievement award from the Federation of Islamic Medical Associations (FIMA). He is a man with many capes when it comes to paediatric healthcare who has remained vocal in tackling the misconception prevailing in vaccinating children in the community.
I’m honoured and humbled to receive this award but I believe the real credit goes to the ‘invisible hands’ who work tirelessly with every project I’m involved in. These are the real heroes who deserve the recognition for their time, effort and sacrifice. – Dato’ Dr Musa Mohd Nordin
#3:Dr Siti Noraida Habibullah, Founder Of Klinik Amal Muhajir, Serves Refugees And Asylum Seekers
Growing up, Dr Siti Noraida had three dreams that she wanted to achieve: a career in medicine, being a good wife and mother and serving orphaned children. Once her daughters grew up, the practising doctor quit her job in a private hospital in Shah Alam. She took on the role of a senior lecturer at the Jeffrey Cheah School of Medicine and Health Sciences at Monash University Malaysia.
With more time in hand, she started volunteering with various orphanages in the Klang Valley to learn the nooks and cranks of public and private welfare systems. Soon, she was formulating a plan, and the result was an umbrella brand for all her charity ventures, ‘Little Steps’ in 2017.
Little Steps was the manifestation of a little girl’s dream of fixing the wrongs, making it right. It’s named as such to remind me that the biggest difference can be made by the smallest steps in the right direction.– Dr Siti Noraida Habibullah
The community projects under Little Steps include projects in education, shelter, health, sustainability efforts, community welfare and international relief efforts. One of the first projects of Little Steps includes the establishment of an orphanage for girls, Haneen Firdaus, a free clinic for the poor in the Kg Chhnang province in Cambodia as well as supporting door-to-door treatment for the sick and needy in crisis-stricken Yemen.
In early 2020, her efforts culminated in the formation of Klinik Amal Muhajir in Serdang as she recognised the many barriers to healthcare access for refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia . The affordable Malaysian healthcare services do not extend to the marginalised communities, and many are afraid to seek help for fear of deportation.
Klinik Amal Muhajir relies on a team of volunteers to provide free consultation and conduct minor procedures for the beneficiaries. She hopes for the clinic to grow big enough in the long run to reach more of the underserved community. Her next plan is to collaborate with existing on-the-ground efforts to create a difference in Sabah.
There are so many people doing great things there, but I think some proper coordination could make a big difference – and I do think that’s something I can help with. – Dr Siti Noraida Habibullah
#4: Dr Shathiskumar Govindaraju, A Cardiologist Who Braved Flood Waters For His Patient’s Welfare
One of the good things that came out of the #daruratbanjir crisis is in the form of people helping people – out of goodwill and personal empathy. Cardiologist, Dr Shathiskumar Govindaraju is a great example.
On a normal day, the distance between his residence to Bukit Tinggi Medical Centre would take less than 10 minutes by car. When rain kept pouring and the floods happened, Dr Shathiskumar had to make a choice to leave his home and be stuck in the floods or stay at home wait it out. But the rain was relentless and he couldn’t wait any longer to attend to two of his patients requiring intensive care. Despite his wife dissuading him, Dr Shathiskumar braved the floods.
My wife told me to wait until the afternoon to go to the hospital due to the floods and heavy rain. But I saw the rain was relentless and the water level kept rising, so I couldn’t wait any longer. – Dr Shathiskumar Govindaraju
With his four-wheel vehicle submerged halfway underwater, he braved the rain and the rising water level on a bicycle heading to the hospital. The journey was perilous as reptiles he had seen swimming in the nearby lakes were swimming in the floodwater. It took him an hour and a half to navigate through the waters.
Thankfully, on his way home, two strangers offered him a ride, halfway to the hospital and another, back to his residence.
It usually takes me seven minutes to get to the hospital from my home, but it took me an hour and a half yesterday because I had to be careful navigating through the floodwaters. So, I’m lucky that they were kind enough to offer me a ride. – Dr Shathiskumar Govindaraju
#5: Dr Zaiton Yahaya, A Family Medicine Specialist Who Provides Healthcare To HIV/AIDS Patients
Within 10 years, the prevalence of AIDS-related death in Sabah has dwindled by 50%. One of the notable efforts in the improved condition is the works of Dr Zaiton Yahaya through the establishment of the Sabah Aids Awareness Group Association (SAGA) and SHAPE.
Her journey to provide awareness and interventions to the larger community in Sabah started with her consultation with a single mother of three who was just diagnosed with HIV+ over 10 years ago. The single mother’s story became her driving force to establish a non-governmental organisation serving HIV/AIDS patients and build greater awareness of the disease amongst Sabahans .
It drew mixed feelings. From the tone of her voice, I felt the agony and misery that the woman was going through. As if she had lost all hope. That was the turning point in my life. – Dr Zaiton Yahaya, founder of SAGA and SHAPE
Armed with determination and her need to serve immediately registered SAGA with the Malaysian AIDS Federation and fought tooth and nail to earn the relevant funding from the Ministry of Health. With the funding, she was set to tackle the high prevalence rate of the disease in Sandakan, followed by reaching out to the communities on the east coast of Sabah in Tawau and Lahad Datu
Most of our patients are naive and not sure about the disease. We had to make them understand the importance of treatment, ensure that they take their medication, and see that treatment can keep them alive. – Dr Zaiton Yahaya
Over time, SHAPE (Saga Health Access Programme) came into the project as Dr Zaiton identified that abject poverty is a stumbling block. SHAPE provides financial assistance to patients in rural areas. Her extensive work with HIV/AIDS patients in Sabah has benefitted over 2,500 beneficiaries in Sabah. In 2019, Dr. Zaitun was awarded the Malaysia AIDS Foundation-Berjaya Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Award.
This award is for everyone who has worked hard for fighting HIV and there’s a lot of work to be done in Sabah, so this award is just the beginning, and there is more work to be done. – Dr Zaiton Yahaya
#6: Dr Ko Ko Gyi, A Burmese Doctor Who Helps The Orang Asli And Disabled Children
Dr Ko Ko Gyi or Abdul Rahman Zafrudin’s early life was riddled with prejudice and discrimination due to the religion he practised. He received a scholarship to pursue medicine but faced oppression from his lecturers and professors. Undeterred, he is also a stout activist advocating for the rights of Muslims in Myanmar .
Back in Myanmar, I was notorious for being a human rights activist; mostly fighting for equal rights for Muslims over there, such as the Rohingyas. It’s sad to have to fight for these rights when Myanmar was always having trouble accessing clean water, stable electricity and transportation. – Dr Abdul Rahman Zafrudin
Dr Ko Ko Gyi was no longer content with the discriminatory medical system and applied to become a doctor with the Muslim Welfare Organisation Malaysia (PERKIM). He served as a mobile doctor with PERKIM, tending to the Orang Asli communities and disabled children at Tasputra-PERKIM. Now, in his early 70s, Dr Ko remains devoted to providing medical assistance to those who are in need in a country that he had found peace in, Malaysia.
I will work as a doctor for as long as I still can. Other than that, I am nearing the end of my life already, so I will also focus on taking care of myself – to keep praying, fasting and being a better Muslim, as well as to continue working hard. – Dr Abdul Rahman Zafrudin 
#7: Sarah Ann Chou, A Clinical Psychologist Improving Mental Health Among Refugees And Migrants
Sarah’s first exposure to the plights of the migrant population was a late-night phone call her mother received, a group of Indian migrant workers have travelled from Johor to KL only to find that the employers did not have the jobs they had promised.
Her mother was frantically looking for temporary shelters for them, and Sarah followed her mother at night to assist the migrant workers thinking to herself, ‘why would anyone do such an awful thing to people?’ The life stories of the marginalised communities are commonly shared by her mother who is actively providing aid to refugees and asylum seekers.
After graduating with a degree in Psychology, she started working with refugees and trafficking victims as a trainer. As Sarah spent more time working with victims of human trafficking, she recognised there is a gap in mental health care for the marginalised.
I remember interviewing a survivor and as she recounted what had happened to her, I saw how she was both physically and emotionally affected by her experience.
All I could think of was the little-to-no support she would receive when she returned. She had gone through so much and yet had almost no support system. – Sarah Ann Chou
In 2019, she joined Doctors Without Borders in Penang to improve mental health access to refugees, asylum seekers and migrants through counselling and psychosocial activities. Her clients were grateful that they had Sarah and her team to lend their listening ears, as often the plights of the marginalised communities are unheard of.
I realised then that no one really takes the time to hear about the plight of a refugee or migrant; to truly listen with your heart about what they are going through. – Sarah Ann Chou
It is her greatest wish that conversations on mental health issues would be normalised in society. Not just that, Sarah hopes Malaysians would also find value in providing the necessary mental health care to the marginalised community such as the refugee and migrant population.
#8: Dr Steven Chow, The Dermatologist Behind The First Medical Post For The Orang Asli Community In Pahang
Dr Steven Chow is a consultant dermatologist at a private hospital in Klang Valley and helms the Federation of Private Medical Practitioners Associations of Malaysia. One of the notable initiatives the federation has established is the DRSforALL initiative in Kampung Chang, an Orang Asli village in Kuala Lipis, Pahang.
The villagers previously relied on the weekly visit by staff from the Ministry of Health (MOH) clinic, however, food is higher on the hierarchy of their needs.
If we don’t have food and the Ministry staff comes, food is still number one, medicine is number two. – Arman Busu, a villager at Pos Lenjang
The nearest public clinic is 7 km away, but a villager like Arman Busu would have to journey through for an hour and a half with his motorbike to reach it. Witnessing the lack of accessibility and awareness among the community, the DRSforALL team stepped in and built the nation’s first Orang Asli Medical Post in Kampung Dayok, Pos Lenjang. The clinic runs on solar power due to a lack of electricity and currently serves 4,000 residents from scattered villages.
Taking a step further, DRSforALL trained 22 youths from the Orang Asli community in first responder treatment and basic first aid to treat medical emergencies such as chest pain, choking and fever. Further, the volunteers working with the initiative were given community funds to cover their travel expenses.
This will be a beacon of light and hope in the jungle. The Federation will still be coming here every month, so they’ll always be in touch with us. We’ll keep training them on telemedicine with mock medicines. Eventually, they won’t need us. – Dr Steven Chow, president of the Federation of Private Medical Practitioners Associations of Malaysia
The long term aim of the initiative was to ensure the community is empowered as a society. In 2021, the DRSforALL ran vocational training for 33 Orang Asli volunteers to eventually become paramedics through their MEDIK OAs programme.
Through this programme, we aim to train them with basic skills to identify and respond to emergency situations, as well as to ‘pack and carry’ critically ill patients to the nearest point of care. – Dr Steven Chow
With the promising outcome of the first medical post in Kampung Dayok, Pos Lenjang; Dr Steven and DrsFor All aims to replicate the success in other indigenous settlements nationwide. As many Orang Asli and Orang Asal communities lack access to not just healthcare, but clean water and electricity that is brimming with the risk of potential infectious diseases.
#9: Dr Abu Razali Saini Provides Dental Treatment To The Homeless And Urban Poor
Dr Abu Razali Saini is a dentist who spends his free time volunteering with local NGOs feeding the homeless in Chow Kit. It occurred to him that the homeless community did not have adequate dental care, and he realised how he could better help the homeless.
When I was with the NGO, Feeding The Needy (FTN) in Chow Kit, I noticed that the recipients of the food did not have good dentition. So we decided to offer dental treatment for them. – Dr Abu Razali Saini, advisor of Dental For The Needy (DFTN)
The organisation relied on volunteers consisting of professionals and dentistry graduates volunteers to perform dental care such as fillings, tooth extraction and cleaning to the homeless and urban poor roaming the streets of Chow Kit.
DFTN started with eight volunteers, but two years onwards, they have grown to an army of 246 volunteers .
We had limited resources and funding to buy equipment and materials. Fortunately, we had support from our association members, the public, dental suppliers, and other NGOs like FTN, Imaret and universities. – Dr Abu Razali Saini
With its exponential growth, the initiative has spread its wings to serve the communities in Kelantan and Sabah. The charity organisation is set to restart their programmes in 2022.
Our motivation is the satisfaction that we feel when we bring them a new smile. – Dr Abu Razali Saini
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