Wednesday, November 29

An unsung stalwart of public health


(From right) Dr Stalin with fellow former state Health director Prof Datu Dr Andrew Kiyu and the writer — a former state chief Health inspector — taken in 2017.

IN our time, we do come across outstanding men in their sphere of work.

The mettle of such career high-achievers is exemplified by the late Datuk Dr Stalin Hardin’s fine record while he was working in the Sarawak Medical and Health Department from 1983 to 1996.

Dr Stalin, the first Iban doctor in Sarawak, was educated at Sacred Heart School, Sibu, and St Thomas’ School, Kuching.

He obtained his MD from the University of Toronto under a Canadian government Colombo Plan Scholarship in 1967 and returned to serve the state at Sibu Hospital.

In 1970, he returned to Canada to complete a one-year internship at Vancouver General Hospital to obtain his IMMC (Licentiate of Canadian Medical Council). At that time, there was shortage of local public health specialists.

Dr Stalin (second right) with Head of State Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud, who was then Chief Minister, at the opening of the 25th annual Health Conference of the Sarawak Health Department. Also seen are Dr Stalin’s predecessors Datuk Dr Chong Chun Hian (right) and Datuk Dr Tan Yaw Kwang.

After completing the course, he returned to Sarawak and was assigned to fill a vacancy at the Sri Aman Divisional Health office in the then Second Division.

He was up to the brim with ideas on public health and rather than be just office-bound, he constantly went to the ground, moving around by longboat and land-cruiser — and even on foot — to rural clinics, rural health sub-centres, and sub-dispensaries, supervising, and implementing government health policies.

His tenure at the Sri Aman Divisional Health Office ended early when he was promoted to the post of assistant director in charge of Medical Headquarters in 1974.

In his new post, Dr Stalin had to brace himself for the rudimentary services at the time, particularly the preventative-curative services, which were understaffed and communicable disease outbreaks were common.

Dr Stalin (front centre) with rural health supervisors of Sri Aman in the 1970s.

He travelled to every nook and cranny of Sarawak to get a better picture of the state’s medical and health needs so that he could plan, apply for funds, and come up with proposals for new health facilities.

Since public health was his forte, he devoted much of his working life to preventative and curative services.

He turned down promotion prospects to stay in Sarawak to see his programmes to fruition.

First, he prioritised rural curative work. Back then, the widely scattered rural villages in the vast interior of Sarawak barely had the benefit of medical health services and facilities.


Clinic Concept

With the introduction of the Clinic Concept, he quickly formed a health team, traversing the challenging rural terrain to conduct clinic management and treatment procedures, aimed at producing a uniform modus operandi.

In consequence, a series of health programmes were introduced to uplift the health standards in the rural areas.

Dr Stalin was also involved in the health promoters programmes, the village health travelling teams and the flying doctor service in addition to introducing family folders under the child and maternal services.

Dr Stalin on the cover of Wadah Kesihatan for November 1996.

Because of his involvement, all these programmes proceeded smoothly.

In 1960, the department implemented the Rural Health Improvement Scheme to improve sanitation in the rural areas. Sanitation facilities were almost non-existent at the time, leading to the frequent outbreak of communicable diseases.

Emphasis was duly placed on the provision of clean water and use of sanitary toilets — either pit or pour-bowl flush types — in the villages.

At that time, an engineer from the World Health Organisation (WHO), SW Kao, was attached to the Environmental Health Unit. He was tasked with training the rural health workers and building gravity feed systems together with training officer Roland Goh.

The Water Supply Programme was running smoothly but not that for building sanitary toilets. Pit latrines were still extensively built until the concrete pour-flush bowl was introduced by Goh. However, the latter was produced locally in limited numbers, and it was also heavy to transport in bulk to the villages.

Under Dr Stalin’s instruction, Tan Leong Koo, a public health engineer with the department, came up with a design for the plastic pour-flush bowl to replace the concrete pour-flush bowl, designed earlier.

Kao brought the new design to Taiwan to make a mould for it and a manufacturer in Peninsular Malaysia was found to produce it. The plastic pour-flush bowl was used in Sarawak before going international later due to its practicality.

With the availability of lightweight plastic bowls, the rural villagers were able to construct and use sanitary toilets in their areas.

The innovative idea to use the plastic pour-flush bowl system was Dr Stalin’s big contribution to the Rural Health Improvement Scheme.

By the time he retired in 1996, 90 per cent of the rural villages had proper toilets and clean water. And he was on hand to witness the opening of some of these projects by the elected representatives and ministers.

Dr Stalin (front right) with participants of the Divisional Medical Officer Conference in 1969. Governor Tun Datuk Patinggi Tuanku Bujang Tuanku Othman is seated at third left.

Healthy City Concept

After he became State Health Director in 1983, Dr Stalin was tasked with implementing the Healthy City Concept by the State Secretary.

He led the other departments in the implementation process in stages, paving the way for Kuching to be recognised as a Healthy City internationally.

Since 1994, Kuching has been deemed a ‘Healthy City’ by the WHO and is a member of the Alliance for Healthy Cities.

Dr Hardin (front centre) during the graduation of the 1983/1984 intake of rural health supervisors.

The recognition, under Dr Stalin’s watch, put a feather in his cap — and deservedly so.

In fact, under his directorship, the Sarawak Medical and Health Department chalked up two successes internationally — recognition of Kuching as a Healthy City and the global use of plastic pour-flush bowls.

A doctor by training, Dr Stalin would also visit rural hospitals to impart good nursing practices. He should be remembered for starting Quality Service and Quality Control Circle (QCC) in the State Health Department which, in fact, pioneered QCC in Sarawak.

Dr Stalin was never too busy to take part in the programmes and activities of the State Medical Recreational Club as the president. Under his stewardship, the club registered an impressive growth with the setting up of 33 branches.

His active participation in tennis and golf inspired the staff to take up sports for competition as well as a healthy lifestyle. With his keen support, the State Medical and Health Department won the overall title of the Sports Championship For Medical Departments, organised by the Sports Ministry at the national level.

Although the Sarawak contingent lifted the overall title only once, it, however, remained dominant in tennis, winning multiple titles in the event at the championship.

Despite his busy schedule, he was still able to get a half-yearly medical newsletter printed and contribute his editorial piece to the in-house publication.

Dr Stalin was a man of few words but he was able to articulate his vision and ideas, and command the respect of his staff.

Throughout his career, he walked tall with a firm commitment to excellence in performing his duties, notching a meritorious track record as the state Health director until his retirement.

Dr Stalin passed away on Feb 10 this year at the age of 79.