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Saturday, October 31, 2020

Geography and infrastructure woes complicate Covid-19 handling in Sabah

 

Borneo Comrade activists in Kampung Air Hujung, Semporna.

PETALING JAYA: With the Covid-19 outbreak in Sabah worsening, many are concerned that hospitals are operating at maximum capacity and frontliners are struggling to reach remote communities.

NGOs as well as individuals have taken to Twitter to crowdfund activities supplementing the efforts of the state health department and overworked frontliners.

Mercy Malaysia’s head of strategy planning, Hafiz Amirrol, told FMT many people, especially in remote areas, were in dire need of assistance.

“Resource gaps have always been there,” he said, “but everyone from civil society and government agencies is working hard to close the gap. There are even individual efforts.”

He said Mercy Malaysia had received great support from donors, especially during the earlier phase of the outbreak.

Some individuals on Twitter are gathering funds for building makeshift facilities to house patients because some hospitals face overcrowding or lack equipment.

One of them, Ranau-based Shahrizal Denci, said on Twitter the funds he was raising were for building an isolation room in the Beluran district.

He said the temporary isolation wards were meant to house patients before they get transported to the nearest Covid-19 designated hospital, in this case Hospital Sandakan, which is about two hours away by car.

Some small hospitals are not equipped with isolation rooms, also known as negative pressure rooms, which are important in curbing the spread of airborne viruses to other parts of the institution.

“Beluran hospital is small,” Shahrizal said. “We are trying to raise RM15,000 and we are almost there. So far, we have raised RM12,701.

“People are placed in isolation wards before getting transported to Hospital Sandakan. But this takes some time. Because they get transported in an ambulance, not many can get in at one go. And when they reach Sandakan, there is no guarantee that they can get checked in.”

Issues pertaining to infrastructure, geography and transport are prevalent in the management of Covid-19 in Sabah.

The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) said in a recent statement these issues would be especially challenging if there were patients in critical condition.

The health ministry has said there were 4,686 beds at 25 hospitals in Sabah as of Tuesday. It said nine of these hospitals had been converted into Covid-19 hospitals and they had 1,264 beds, 59% of which were occupied.

The ministry also said there were 7,242 beds at low-risk Covid-19 treatment and quarantine centres, with a 43% take-up rate.

But sources on the ground said there was a general shortage of ICU beds in the hospitals within the red zones.

MMA said transporting Stage 4 and Stage 5 Covid-19 patients to the designated hospitals was challenging, considering Sabah’s geography.

One activist who works in the islands off Semporna said one would need boats to reach the small pockets of rural communities there.

Mukmin Nantang, who leads an NGO called Borneo Comrade, said the number of residents in these villages did not match official statistics. He said many houses were broken up into smaller housing units, sometimes with multiple families.

He said there were many misconceptions about the virus among the village folk because they did not have the devices or connectivity to receive or search for accurate information.

These misconceptions bred fear, especially among the undocumented, and many of them ran from healthcare officers to avoid getting screened when their villages were put under enhanced movement control orders.

Mukmin worries that they may be spreading the virus to other villages and nearby islands.

He said the people there were told by word of mouth that testing positive would mean getting locked up. The undocumented, meanwhile, feared they would get arrested.

“There is no clear statement by authorities to say they can get screened without being punished for their immigration status,” he said.

The authorities should run awareness campaigns aimed at these communities with details about screening processes and information about the disease, Mukmin added. - FMT

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