Saturday, April 20

Good health and wellbeing

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A woman undergoes medical check-up at a longhouse as others wait for their turn. ‘Wise ladies, they are.’ — Bernama file photo

I’m still in the mood for writing about what non-governmental organisations (NGO) in Sarawak can do to help the country reach the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. It’s a tall order but try we must – 12 years to go!

‘Pink and Teal Empower Her’

Never mind the colours; they symbolise neither a flower arrangement nor an airline company (TEAL).

It’s a group of dedicated young people headed by a medical doctor intent on proving that cervical cancer or breast cancer can be prevented, stopped and cured by early detection of symptoms and prompt treatment.

On Thursday, I was invited to coffee by one of the members, Jovenne Lai, to meet with her boss, Dr Abigail Rembui Anak Jerip. How happily did I accept that invitation! I am a cancer survivor myself and a living testimony that cancer – my case, 14 years ago, was obviously not of the variety we are referring to here – can be cured.

Mission Statement

This latest addition to the NGOs in Sarawak was founded in June this year. Its mission statement: “No woman left behind in breast and cervical cancer screening”.

Their modus operandi is simple: a team of volunteer doctors and trained nurses will visit women in their villages, and conduct tests at the nearest Klinik Kesihatan or even at any convenient centre in the village. Depending on results, they then begin treatment plus follow up visits. Their outreach programmes are showing positive results.

The ‘naked but trained eye’ method gives immediate and accurate results. It is cheap, widely used in Africa, Latin America, Central Asia and China. In most cases, the job of diagnosis and treatment can be done during one visit to the patient.

Pink and Teal relies on the voluntary service of busy doctors and nurses from Kuching who give their time over the weekend, to go and return home the same day.

In their write-up which was presented at the meeting with the members of parliament on Sept 15, it is claimed that in Sarawak women in the rural areas are under-served by the current cervical cytology.

This situation must have given some ideas to Dr Abigail and Dr Mardiana Kipli, Head of Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at Unimas. Try out another approach – reach out to women in the rural areas with professional medical advice, don’t wait for them to come to hospitals or clinics in town!

As far as I know this campaign is the first of its kind in Malaysia and it’s happening in beloved Sarawak.

Hey fellows, see what can happen when two women put their heads together!

According to Dr Abigail, chairperson of the Persatuan Kesedaran Kanser Wanita and trainee lecturer at Unimas, the method employed is called VIA – ‘naked eye, trained naked eye’.

Pink and Teal are hoping to train some people in the use of Artificial Intelligence, and a Machine which is able to accurately diagnose a condition. The use of this machine was pioneered by a New Zealand company. Moving ahead indeed, aren’t we?

So many lives are lost unnecessarily.

Every day, nearly 750 women, mostly in the developing countries, die from cervical cancer. No surprises there: those women had no access to early detection and treatment. That is the point that Dr Abigail was stressing to me, while her assistant, Jovenne was nodding with a smile.

Within the first few months of its existence, this NGO has done a lot of screening work among women in the villages of Rejoi, Karu, Simuti, Anah Rais, and Tarat. Next week they will be operating in Balai Ringin, followed by a visit to Lundu.

In connection with Breast Cancer International Month, Pink and Teal will provide free screening at the City One shopping mall on 20th October. That’s an excellent public service. Women, take advantage of that service.

More good news

And here’s another NGO which is doing a good job: Sarawak AIDS Concern Society under the leadership of Dr Yuwana Podin.

It disseminates information regarding HIV/AIDS and dispels some myths; eliminates stigmas attached to HIV/AIDS; provides peer support to the families of and people living with HIV/AIDS; promotes and protects the rights of the persons affected.

Its outreach programme, funded by a grant from the Ministry of Health, includes providing free HIV and STI test to people at risk; promoting safe sex education; ensuring that HIV patients get treatment regularly.

They have four items on their agenda: among the most important is their proposal to the Ministry of Education to introduce Sexual Reproduction Health awareness as part of ‘the compulsory school syllabus’. I endorse that; it’s been talked about for years. About time it was implemented!

This is a commendable service from a NGO, worth every Ringgit it’s allocated. Perhaps, when the Federal government has extra funds, it will help finance some of the projects undertaken by other NGOS … without political strings attached.

The enthusiasm of the volunteers of the various NGOs in the State is one thing, sustaining that enthusiasm is another. Government’s financial contribution however limited, even a one-off grant, will help towards sustaining them for a long time.

The corporate community has also been carrying out their share of non-governmental service – their own Corporate Social Responsibility projects. They chip in wherever they think it is worth their money.

Big corporations such as locally based oil and gas companies, timber and plantation companies, should be taken on board by the Sarawak Alliance of Sustainable Development Goals. There’s a lot that they can do together towards the government’s effort in terms of realising the UN Development Programme. These goals are basically the same as our own national goals, to provide all people with Good Health and Wellbeing!

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