LIPIS: After witnessing the lack of medical care and accessibility in remote areas, a team of doctors stepped in and set up Malaysia’s first Orang Asli (OA) medical post in Kampung Dayok, Pos Lenjang, here.
Known as DRsforALL, the initiative began in 2018 and has been serving more than 4,000 residents from scattered villages only accessible by 4x4 pickup trucks.
Dr Steven Chow Kim Weng, who founded the initiative, said the nearest hospital is a three-hour drive away.
“We started offering our medical service to the outreach work in Sabah, Sarawak and peninsular Malaysia,” he said in an interview.
However, Dr Chow said some people told him such efforts were not comprehensive.
“We do outreach work in one place but won’t be there for long. So I thought perhaps we should do more than just ‘touch and go.’
“We should build something, stay and ensure that we can sustain. That’s why we mooted DRsforALL,” he added.
To empower the Orang Asli community, the team took a step further by training the youths to become Medik OA, equipping them with knowledge in first responder treatment and basic life-saving skills to treat medical emergencies, including basic dispensing and inventory work for clinics.
The ultimate aim is for these young and budding Medik OA to become qualified paramedics.
“We trained the Orang Asli from young, designed the programme and taught them basic medical skills and knowledge.
“We also put them through a life-saving course,” he said, adding that the course was a collaboration with Pahang St John’s Ambulance.
Besides the training, Dr Chow, 71, said youths were also given jobs.
“We did a rotation system so they could come to town and spend a fortnight.
“Over the years and after the pandemic, they have been slowly able to stay longer up to a few months,” he said, adding that the youths have progressed to training the trainers.
The whole idea is to build up a self-reliant, sustainable group empowered to look after themselves, he said.
“We also want to produce a vocational programme where they can find work outside of the village and live normal lives,” he said.
Out of the core of more than 33 pioneering Medik OA, there are 17 who are currently doing full-time.
“They are now bringing their own recruits under a buddy system.
“We will provide the vocational framework for them to advance to the next level,” he said.
Dr Chow also said the Medik OA are all now “a changed person” compared to when they first joined.
“Over three years, we find that they learnt very fast. Now they can converse in English. They have matured,” he said.
Dr Chow said the DRsforALL initiative managed to pull off during the height of the pandemic, thanks to the Orang Asli Development Department for arranging Internet access in the village.
“We developed our teleconsultation and telemedicine programme for the Medik OA team so that any patient who requires immediate attention can be referred to one of our doctors, who can then take over the management and follow-up remotely.
“We have saved the lives of patients with asthma and children with pneumonia,” he said.
“In the past, these children have no chance of survival.”
Moving forward, Dr Chow said the Medik OA should be self-reliant and sustainable in the future.
“We feel that they should be able to look after themselves administratively and as an organisation. For that, we have got the Medik OA into a registered society – Persatuan Medik OA Lipis.
“They will now be able to arrange the entire programme by themselves, including logistics,” he said, adding that the team of doctors would still assist with all the necessary support.
Dr Chow noted that DRsforALL also wants to upgrade the existing programme to formal training with a university’s para-professional or para-healthcare programmes.
“We have obtained five scholarships for the youths ready to be sent for such programmes at the Asian Institute of Medicine, Science and Technology University.
Dr Chow said the entire programme had nothing to lose even if any of the Medik OA decided to remain or return to their remote village as the skills and knowledge they learnt were still of value to their community.
“Even if they fall out of the programme, it is of no loss to the community,” he said.
Dr Chow said DRsforALL meant a lot to its team of doctors by prioritising “service over self.”
Stressing the importance of leaving behind a legacy and a framework for the younger doctors to continue, he said DRsforALL also aims to replicate the success in other Orang Asli settlements lacking access to healthcare, clean water and electricity, which could lead to an increased risk of infectious diseases.
For their noble efforts, DRsforALL is recognised as one of the 10 winners of the Star Golden Hearts Award 2022 (SGHA) under the organisation (social welfare) category.
SGHA is an annual award by The Star and Yayasan Gamuda that celebrates everyday Malaysian unsung heroes. For more details, visit sgha.com.my.