Think tank lauds move to bring healthcare to rural areas

Health services remain largely urban-centric, requiring rural patients to repeatedly spend hours and travel long distances to seek treatment for chronic diseases. (Bernama pic)

GEORGE TOWN: A healthcare and social policy think tank has praised new Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad’s plan to increase access to specialised services for people in rural areas.

Galen Centre CEO Azrul Mohd Khalib said such services remained largely urban-centric, requiring rural patients to repeatedly spend hours and travel long distances to seek treatment for chronic diseases such as cancer.

He said the problem resulted in large non-medical costs to patients which caused serious financial hardship, particularly for the lower income people.

“This has deterred such patients from seeking treatment.

“We hope that the Ministry of Health, in future measures, will also share its plans to address the East Malaysian healthcare gap where there is an urgent need to bridge this urban-rural divide,” he told FMT.

Azrul said more than a third of the population in Sabah and Sarawak lived beyond 5km of any kind of health facility and had to travel for hours to seek treatment.

He said there was a need for more health infrastructure facilities in rural areas and strengthening of existing services.

But, most importantly, the ministry must ensure the facilities were staffed with sufficient skilled healthcare workers, he added.

Dzulkefly yesterday announced six measures aimed at improving the quality of services at government hospitals.

One measure is to forge cluster hospital collaboration between specialist hospitals and non-specialist hospitals to enable more rural people to have access to specialised services.

Another is to raise the capacity of public hospitals by building new facilities and at the same time upgrading the existing ones.

Other measures include improving day-care services in hospitals to reduce congestion in in-patient admissions and waiting time for treatment, and more collaboration between government hospitals and universities.

An appointment system will be introduced for patients to see doctors while improving the efficiency in handling patients’ waiting process, both of which will reduce waiting time and congestion at the clinics.

Azrul said that if these measures were dealt with firmly and with sufficient resources committed to the effort, the gains would be low-hanging but meaningful fruit.

“The wide-ranging impact will be able to demonstrate the new government’s ability to deliver on its promises to improve the health infrastructure,” he added.

Dzulkefly outlines 6 measures for better health services