Monday, June 17

A twinkle of hope


Mr T is 60. He has serious heart valve disorder. He looked pale and weak when I visited him at the Sarawak Heart Centre in January this year.

Though weak, he was still full of hope that he would be granted a slot for surgery to repair the defective valve.

This is not the first time I’ve heard of patients being admitted without a date for the procedure.

Some years back, another friend was admitted to the Centre for open heart surgery. This friend was operated on within a week as he was ‘lucky’ the patient due for surgery was unfit that day.

Mr T, from Sibu, related to me there were some patients who had been admitted and had waited for six months but was still way down the queue. It was a shock to me.

I think Mr T had waited in vain for at least two months to have his surgery. As the days went by, while patiently awaiting his turn, he learned some patients had died and this, coupled with being lonely as no family members were staying with him in Kuching, had shaken resolve.

So when the doctor suggested he should go home and consider doing his operation in IJN (Institut Jantung Negara – National Heart Institute), he readily agreed.

The hospital promised to apply for welfare assistance to cover the cost of his surgery. Well, it’s now August but he’s still on IJN short list, waiting (and hoping) for welfare approval.

I thought Mr T’s hopes would have been re-ignited when Pakatan Harapan (PH) took over the government in May. But have his hopes diminished once again on this day – that is 101 days after PH came into power?

I have not asked him. Fearing the truth, I dare not call to ask albeit Mr T is always in my thoughts and prayers.

Then I read the government is aiming to make Malaysia the fertility and cardiology treatment hub of Asia by 2020 due to the high quality of health services available in the country.

However, after seeing what Mr T had been made to go through, I thought this piece of news was nothing more than another of those ‘feel good’ lollies from the government to rekindle a fast fading post-100 days euphoria.

If, indeed, the so-called treatment hub has been prompted by our high quality health services, how then is Mr T still left waiting indefinitely for his surgery? That really made my blood boil.

Malaysia Health Tourism Council (MHIC) chief executive officer Sherene Azli said the Council is working closely with the Health Minister and private hospitals to achieve the ‘treatment hub’ goal in the next two years, adding that this will be a boost for the country’s health tourism industry.

“The success rate of the In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) treatment in Malaysia is high – between 55 to 60 per cent – while for cardiology treatment, IJN already has a very good reputation of being among the best in Asia.

“The level of demands and the country’s capability to provide the services involved prove that Malaysia has a huge potential to be promoted as a fertility and cardiology treatments hub in the region,” she said on Bernama News Channel’s ‘Ruang Bicara’ Programme recently.

I’m not familiar with the queues for fertility treatment but I do know the queues at heart centres are long. Mr T has been waiting since March.

I can’t help but think more apparently is being done about money matters than looking after the health of the people.

A doctor friend in a public hospital concurs with me on this.

No doubt, health tourism is important as it brings money to the country. But on the other important hand, have we done enough for our people in terms of healthcare, among a horde of others.

Is IJN doing enough to help needy Malaysians? If not, is there anything the government should do to compensate for the shortfall?

Who owns IJN? On whose facilities, resources and funding is it operating? What is the current number of patients on the waiting list? And how long is the waiting list?

These are questions that should be answered first before we talk about promoting health tourism through IJN.

In Sarawak, there is only one heart centre situated in Kuching. When and where will the second or third heart centre be built?

With 2020 earmarked for Malaysia to assume the leadership role in medical tourism across the region, has the government considered another heart centre for Sarawak by 2020?

Has anyone ever wondered how would our people, travelling from Limbang and Lawas, be able to get adequate medical treatment before arriving in Kuching?

We all agree it’s not easy but there is nothing stopping us from putting our hearts to improving our situation, is there?

Instead of just concentrating on providing “excellent” healthcare to foreigners by 2020, we surely, and more importantly, can also do something for our own people by that year. Or at least, let the many Mr Ts have a chance to go for surgery in the time between now and 2020.

Vision 2020 is the brainchild of our Prime Minister. Though he has blamed the previous government for the slim chance for Malaysia to achieve developed nation status by then, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed has maintained the country could still meet the target with him at the helm.

Tun M has been quoted as saying “but what we need is sincerity, accountability, hard work, effort and most importantly, we must be satisfied with our work and not with what is given to us.”

The 93-year old new boss with his visionary 2020 reminds me of this nursery rhyme Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

Few know this nursery rhyme has five stanzas – the fifth one is rarely sung.

“As your bright and tiny spark,

Lights the traveller in the dark, __

Though I know not what you are,

Twinkle, twinkle, little star.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

How I wonder what you are!

Psalmist David said the Lord’s fingerprints are on the moon and the stars. He is the Maker of all of them and set them in place yet He cares personally for each one of us and empowers us and entrusted to us to care for the world.

As we gaze at our star-spattered night skies, let’s wish upon a star that the many Mr Ts out there will be able to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star from Stanza 1 to the fifth one by 2020.