Thursday, October 24

Healthcare volunteers walk the talk


Healthcare volunteers arrive at Bario Airport.

YOU cannot understand someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes – an apt description of the recent initiative by a team of healthcare volunteers from Miri to introduce their first Orthopaedic Outreach Programme to Bario.

The team comprised specialists from the Orthopaedic Department, specialists and nurses from the Departments of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, as well as medical officers and nurses from Miri Hospital.

An exterior view of a Penan hut.

“Apart from Miri, our department (orthopaedic) regularly delivers services to the people in Marudi, Limbang and Lawas through scheduled specialist clinic visits to the respective hospitals. We had to leave out Bario because of logistic issues,” team leader Dr Norzatulsyima Nasirudin shared.

However, two months ago, the department decided to bring its first Orthopaedic Outreach Programme to the Kelabit Highlands.

Dr Norzatulsyima said travelling to Bario was a challenge, involving the use of a small passenger aircraft whose flight to the highlands depended very much on weather conditions.

“We took a connecting flight to Miri, the nearest city, and another 45-minute flight on MASwings Twin Otter, operating twice weekly, to reach our destination in a rather secluded area. The flight was smooth overall and we counted it as a blessing,” she said.

Consultation at the orthopaedic clinic.

The alternative to flying is a 10- to 14-hour overland trip in a four-wheel drive vehicle through a bumpy logging road.

“Our mission focuses on providing healthcare services to far-flung areas through basic medical screening and treatment, orthopaedic consultation as well as orthopaedic-related health education to the residents,” she explained.

For the team, the trip to the highlands was also a breath of fresh air – cool breeze blowing in from the mountains, acres of paddy fields, and lush pristine greenery giving the volunteers a refreshing sense of being close to nature, and above all, the hospitality of the Kelabit people making them feel at home.

The next morning, the team got down to the brass tacks, setting up a clinic with the help of the Bario Health Clinic.

On the first clinic day, they attended to 15 walk-in patients, some of whom needed follow-up treatments such as radiography, lab tests and inter-speciality referrals, only be available at Miri Hospital or the nearest medical facility at Marudi District Hospital.


Medical volunteers attend to patients on clinic day in Bario.

No easy task

“It wasn’t the easiest of tasks due to the various cases we encountered. Thankfully, the limited stock of medications we brought along was able to meet the demand,” Dr Norzatulsyima said.

She added that one of the most memorable cases was attending to a 102-year-old Kelabit woman at the Bario Asal Longhouse.

“It was certainly a great experience and privilege to help her and the longhouse people. At the same time, it made us wonder how such a small village clinic with limited resources and connectivity to the outside world can look after the population of Bario.

“The dedication of the staff manning the health clinic is admirable and they deserve the mention for their efforts.”

Dr Norzatulsyima said the Bario trip was a heartfelt experience for the team and by the end of the four-night stay at the Bario Asal Longhouse, they felt quite reluctant to leave.

A home visit to a Penan patient, who lives with his family in a ramshackle hut.

“Our experience is an eye-opener. Despite the state having developed over the years, there are still places such as Bario that need more attention than others.

“Our home visit also took us to a Penan shack where we attended to a young Penan man with colostomy condition.

“The living conditions are not good. The patient and his family call the ramshackle hut their home. To them, it seems sufficient to have a simple roof over their heads.

“There are no proper toilets and sewage system, no clean water and the living conditions are heart-breaking to see,” she noted.

Dr Norzatulsyima thanked the team for their dedication and esprit de corps. Among the members were programme vice-chairman Ismyth Abd Rahman, secretary Dr Nur Shakinah Ajak, treasurer Dr Mohamad Norazrin Mohd Abas, Dr Tan Lip Siang, Dr Noorhuda Abdul Mutalif, Dr Norhana Mohamaed Ali, Dr Muhd Ridzuan Hussin, Dr Rashdeep Singh Jagdeb Singh, Dr Mohamad Aizat Mohamad Zahari, Dr Reyna Hendrick,

The Miri Orthopaedic Outreach Programme team at the home of retired staff nurse Bulan and her family, who accommodated the team in their longhouse homestay.

Dr Nadirah Suni, Dr Dalvin Kaur Karlsey, Dr Stefi Wong, matron Chieng Sui Hoon, head nurses, and medical assistants.

“As Malaysians and healthcare professionals, we are proud and delighted to be able to contribute to the people in rural areas –even for only a short period at a time. There are many places which still need our help and we can reach out to them. For us, we will definitely be there to do our part,” she added.