Press Statement By Irene Chang:
The current pandemic situation in Sibu reaffirms the ugly truth of how the healthcare system in Sibu has been sidelined all these years. Today in the midst of Covid-19 crisis, we Sibuans, pay the ultimate price of being treated like a stepson by not only the Federal Government but also by the Sarawak State Health Ministry.
Recently on 9th January, 2021, the Minister of Local Government and Housing, Dato Sri Dr Sim Kim Hui has called for the decentralization of public health care in order to improve the health services in Sarawak. I agree with him that the federal government has failed us in our healthcare system. However, for government hospitals outside Kuching, not only the Federal government has failed us but also the Sarawak Health Ministry has neglected us. Sibu Hospital is one of the neglected ones.
All these years, the state Health Ministry has centralized too much power and resources and manpower in Sarawak General Hospital in Kuching. Most funds and resources which come in to Sarawak from Putrajaya would be channeled to Sarawak State Health Department or the State Specialist mostly based in Sarawak General Hospital for distribution by these departments. Sadly, most of the time, these distributions were very often not done equitably.
The main hospitals in Sibu, Miri, Bintulu and Sarikei are often left to their own devices to find the necessary funds to
purchase the equipment which they may urgently need for their own hospital.
The reported news on the private donations of the PCR machines to run the Covid-19 swab test in both Sibu Hospital and Miri Hospital are the cases in point. Likewise, it was also reported that the setting up of the two testing laboratories in Bintulu were also borne by public donations. Why should these hospitals outside Kuching be left to themselves to source for the necessary funds to purchase these machines?
With Sibu now being the epicentre of Covid-19 in Sarawak, the 2 PCR machines are still insufficient as it was reported that arrangements have to be made to send more than 1,000 samples daily to Kuala Lumpur and Kuching. Surely, the State Health Department should know by now that Sibu Hospital still need more PCR machines not only for Covid-19 but also to test any organism with accuracy with faster results.
In fact, before this pandemic, patients with leptospirosis, TB, hepatitis, HIV, Pneumonia, brain infection etc were either treated clinically by the doctor’s experience or they had to wait for weeks for the PCR results to come back from KL or Kuching. Patients might die during the waiting for the result or might have suffered from wrong treatment while waiting for the accurate results.
Other than funds and resources, the people outside Kuching over the years, have paid the price of being deprived of specialist care in their hospital. While Sarawak General Hospital is swarming with specialists and sub-specialists, the hospitals in Sibu, Miri and Bintulu are consistently short and deprived of these specialist care.
Even during this pandemic time, the State Health Department cannot even spare one infectious disease specialist to come in to Sibu Hospital to help treat the infectious disease of our Covid-19 patients. Besides this, since a lot of our Covid-19 patients are kidney disease patients and/or have heart complications, it is also unacceptable that until now, not even one kidney specialist or cardiologist have been sent to Sibu Hospital to help our people here.
Has our lack in the specialists care in any way contribute to the high mortality rate from Covid-19 in Sibu Hospital? To date, we have 41 deaths out of the total 69 deaths in Sarawak since the Pasai Cluster started in the beginning of January.
What Sibu Hospital is suffering today is the result of years of neglect by both the Federal and State Health Ministries. It is obvious that prior to the Pasai Cluster, State Health Department did not prepare the hospitals outside Kuching to handle the outbreak. While the doctors and nurses in these hospitals are trying their very best to handle the outbreak, their limitations are to be expected given their lack of resources and manpower in their hands.
I therefore urge, on behalf of the people of Sibu who are physically, mentally, emotionally and economically exhausted from the suffering caused by Covid-19, that the State Health Department immediately deploy experienced specialists like Infectious Disease physicians, kidney and heart specialists, intensivists along with more nurses and medical assistants to help both Sibu Hospital and Public Health Departments in Sibu for the remaining of the pandemic wave.
For the long term goal, the State Government should push for decentralization from Putrajaya to allow the State Health Department to have the autonomy to decide on the stationing of the specialists and senior health staff in any hospitals in Sarawak, on their promotion and on how to spend the funds allocated to Sarawak. Only in this way, can the health care system in Sarawak has the chance to be improved.