Ramp up vaccination drive in remote areas

LONG Lamai, a remote village in Sarawak probably does not ring a bell with most Malaysians.

Most of us would not even care about this remote Penan settlement, located near the borders of Sarawak and Kalimantan, Indonesia.

The village is only accessible by a 90-minute flight from Miri to Long Banga, followed by a 60-minute boat ride. Miri is a coastal city located at the north west of Sarawak.

To drive to Miri from Long Lamai would take 10 hours, excluding a two-hour boat ride from Long Puah.

Now, it has become a subject of discussion between the state authorities and Health Ministry in Putrajaya following a Covid-19 outbreak.

The whole village has been placed under enforced movement control order (EMCO) after a woman from the village, reportedly went to Miri to attend her mother’s funeral two weeks ago.

She was tested positive for the virus after her trip. So was a driver who accompanied her.

Soon, villagers were sharing with church and welfare groups that they were coughing and had lost their taste buds, all signs of Covid-19 symptoms. That was when alarm bells started.

Of the more than 300 villagers in Long Lamai, 31 are said to have tested positive following a swab test.

The village is now reportedly monitored by a medical team from Miri Health Office and Miri Hospital as well as three police personnel from Marudu district police headquarters, according to a news report.

A quarantine and treatment centre has also been set up.

Incredibly, when the matter was first brought up, there were denials, even from Mulu assemblyman Datuk Gerawat Gala, who refuted a message that was widely circulated on WhatsApp about the outbreak.

He told the local press that only some villagers were affected, denying claims it was widespread.

It was a classic case of a politician wanting to downplay an incident instead of seeking more details and trying to get help. There were even initial accusations of fake news when it first surfaced.

The truth soon came out. If it wasn’t serious, then there would be no need for an EMCO, right? Providing more information would help as in all crisis management.

Haven’t politicians learned from one Member of Parliament, who was recently sacked as chairman of a government body, after describing a train collision as “normal”?

The village has no clinic and those in need of medical aid would go to the nearest clinic at Long Banga, about two hours’ away by boat.

The point is this – no one is spared from the scourge of Covid-19. Not even the Penans, a nomadic indigenous group living in Sarawak and Brunei. There are about 16, 000 of them in these two places.

They are shy, by nature, but friendly and the last group of Malaysians who remain true to their lifestyle, mainly hunters and gatherers.

I had the opportunity of spending time with these people, after taking an eight-hour drive from Miri via treacherous logging tracks to Lusong Laku, and saw what is probably the most unknown but the biggest waterfall in this country.

Those of us who live in cities demand speedier vaccination, but no doubt our frontliners are having a difficult, and I’m sure frustrating, time persuading these minorities to be tested and to accept the vaccine.

Two ministers – Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah and Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed, who are MPs from Pahang and Kelantan respectively, have shared how communities in remote areas needed to be convinced.

Even Orang Asli broadcasts and several dialects are being used to approach them.

Many of us would be shocked to learn that the elderly Orang Asli cannot recall having taken any injections at all and the thought of a needle terrifies them.

The direct approach, including mobile teams, has been used to help these rural folks because many have no mobile phones and needless to say, no connectivity, much less able to download a MySejahtera app.

These are our fellow Malaysians who live in distant areas, and they need our help.

The virus has unfortunately reached them and the fight against Covid-19 is even more difficult and deadlier for them as they are mostly isolated. We need to step up.

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