Sabah healthcare workers doing good job in a challenging environment

I read with deep regret your report today, “Blame polio outbreak on slow health officials, not politicians”.

A pathogist was quoted as saying that the Sabah health authorities simply “did not understand the science well enough to galvanise the politicians into action”.

The Sabah polio resurgence reflects the complex challenge of maintaining herd immunity and mass vaccination.

The first case was in Tuaran but the second and third case were both unvaccinated foreigners from Sandakan and Kinabatangan, separated by hours of road travel with challenging terrains.

Certain places in Kinabatangan will only be accessible by boats only during non rainy days.

In addition with the amendments to the Fees Act for foreigners in 2016, access to healthcare for the undocumented and marginalised communities became increasingly difficult.

Sabah healthcare is unlike any other state, with its deep jungles, rivers, mountains and seas.

Healthcare workers have to many times brave dangerous river rapids and jungle terrain fraught with landslides just to reach the communities.

There are places that are only accessible by air and on occasions, patients had to be flown by helicopters to hospitals, with each flight risking even the lives of the pilots and healthcare workers.

The migratory nature of undocumented communities – their inaccessible localities and the enforcement risks they faced – makes it extremely difficult to deliver mass vaccinations.

Despite that, many Sabah healthcare staff risk their personal safety and lives every day, travelling in boats, ambulance and vans to carry out those much needed healthcare and vaccination programmes.

There is no doubt that we need to ensure mass vaccination for everyone regardless of status, as infections doesn’t discriminate nationalities and beliefs.

However, to do that, with the limited healthcare resources we have, the porous borders of Sabah and its many different communities, a holistic approach must be taken.

Laying the blame on the health authorities and their doctors is adding fuel to a fire that yields no benefit and may cause immense harm.

It also detracts from the tremendous efforts put in by many in doing their best despite the limited resources.

I have nothing but total admiration and sense of gratitude for all the Sabah healthcare staff, who continue to deliver the much needed healthcare daily in the most challenging of environments and situations.

It is a testament of their commitment to the concept of health for all. Many would have left for easier lives and jobs if not for their steadfast belief.

Let’s just work together to improve the health of all rather than laying unjustifiable blame.

Let’s just make sure healthcare access is universal with better policies, understanding the different needs and challenges in the spirit of cooperation.

Dr John Teo is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.