For activist, new hospitals in Sarawak still a distant dream despite Putrajaya’s pledge

Lawrence Jayaraj with his wife Agnes Padan. The couple has been campaigning for better healthcare in rural Sarawak.

PETALING JAYA: An activist is still unconvinced that the construction of a new district hospital in Lawas, a small town in Sarawak more than 1,000km from Kuching, will materialise anytime soon despite the works minister’s pledge.

Lawrence Jayaraj, whose personal experience turned him into an activist pushing for better healthcare in the interior of Sarawak, said while Baru Bian had spoken on the issue, there was still no word from Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad.

He said it would take at least four years before the health ministry commissions the construction of a new hospital.

Even the existing hospitals in some parts of Sarawak suffer a shortage of specialists, equipment, medicine and trained medical staff, he said.

“We are not even sure if the specialists at the Miri hospital are registered under the National Specialist Register of the Malaysian Medical Council,” Lawrence told FMT recently.

He said clinics in Long Semadoh, a rural area in Sarawak, are poorly equipped, with no medication available and “unqualified staff” in charge.

Last week, Baru said Putrajaya would complete work on the long-delayed new Lawas hospital as well as two others in Miri and Petra Jaya as part of Pakatan Harapan’s pledge to revamp healthcare in East Malaysia.

Baru described the Lawas hospital project as a “sick project”, adding that the government intends to jumpstart the construction of the new hospitals soon with tender documents for contractors to be made available in the coming weeks.

Lawrence’s wife, Agnes Padan, was behind a negligence suit against the Lawas district hospital, which she won. In 2002, her mother, Kam Agong from Long Semadoh, died of bleeding a month after giving birth by C-section at the hospital, a story Lawrence retold in a film he produced.

Until today, the hospital lacks specialists, with only about two dozen beds available.

Since that incident, expecting mothers from Long Semadoh have been referred to the Miri hospital, a 10-hour journey that cuts across Brunei and costs large amounts for a single round-trip.

Baru hails from the Lun Bawang settlement in Long Semadoh, which is under Ba’kelalan, the state constituency he represents.

After FMT highlighted Lawrence’s film documenting Kam Agong’s death, Baru promised a new hospital within five years.

But Lawrence is not optimistic and believes there will be further delays.

He said the previous administration under Dr Mahathir Mohamad had made a similar promise.

One reason for his pessimism is that Sarawak still does not have autonomy in matters of healthcare.

Decentralising of healthcare management to regional centres has long been mooted as a practical way to improve the needs of the people in Sarawak and Sabah.

When contacted, Baru told FMT that Lawrence had every right to be pessimistic.

However, he reiterated his pledge to see these projects through, adding that his ministry and no other is carrying out the tendering process.