Malaysian health ministry ready to foot transport bill for poor patients

PETALING JAYA - The Health Ministry will support requests for funding during budget reviews to provide transportation for poor patients in remote areas who cannot afford to travel to hospitals.

"Funding for transportation for referred patients for acute emergencies is a priority," said a ministry spokesman, referring to indigenous poor in remote areas.

He said the ministry was working towards reducing the healthcare disparity between people in the rural and remote areas and the urban population.

He said free transportation was also provided to poor patients in remote areas who needed immediate medical attention.

Health clinics in remote areas were equipped with 4WD ambulances to traverse the rough terrain and were provided by hospitals for emergency cases, he said.

The spokesman said after being discharged, the hospital would bear the expense for poor patients to return home.

In Sabah and Sarawak, patients in emergency cases in the remote areas are transported by helicopter, while in the peninsula, mercy flights are provided by the RMAF.

He also said health staff would transport referral cases for orang asli and the Penans, including their families, to the peninsula if required.

Other services for remote communities are 222 mobile health services, including 12 flying doctor services and "teleprimary care", which allows medical assistants in remote areas to conduct telephone consultations with specialists in hospitals.

The ministry also collaborates with agencies such as the Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa) and the Sarawak Government, which provides for the indigenous people to return home after being discharged.

Jakoa director-general Datuk Dr Mohd Sani Mistam said it was responsible for transporting orang asli from their villages to the hospitals in each district.

"The orang asli will inform the tok batin (village head) in their settlement, who then contacts the Jakoa district officer by wireless radio," he added.

He said the officer would contact the wireless communication centre in Gombak to get the necessary transport sent over.

"If it is deep in the jungle, we'll link up with the military to send a helicopter to the nearest location," said Dr Mohd Sani.