Too poor to go to hospital

Ujai and his 47-year-old wife Pinny Jeno spending the day in their longhouse.

PETALING JAYA - For indigenous people in remote areas, they cannot enjoy healthcare even it is free. This is because they do not have money for the trip to the hospital.

Ujai Japi, 50, a Kenyah, was entitled to hip replacement treatment costing RM11,000 (S$4,300) through the Bintulu Hospital welfare assistance programme.

But he could not afford the transport cost from his longhouse in Kejaman to the hospital, some 200km away.

The journey takes about five hours and it costs around RM400 to hire a four-wheel drive vehicle due to the challenging terrain.

"Many of us do not bother going for medical treatment because we cannot afford the transport cost even though the Government is providing free treatment," Ujai said in an interview.

Ujai said that if not for some friends who had chipped in, he would have to forget about the hospital appointment.

No national statistics were available but a villager in Belaga, who declined to be named, said 90% of the 23,911 natives living there were poor and could not afford transportation to health facilities.

They were from the Kenyah, Kayan, Kejaman, Punan, Sekapan, Penan, Ukit, Lahanan, Tanjung and Sihan tribes, while 5% were Malays and Chinese, he said.

Ujai received only RM100 from the social welfare unit of the hospital for his family to return home.

The local community said the funds at the hospital sometimes ran out while a source said the nationwide budget had been slashed this year.

For his surgery on Aug 13, Ujai would have to go to the Belaga health clinic a day or two earlier to arrange transportation for him and his wife to the hospital.

His chief concern is the erratic availability of the vehicles because they are used mainly for emergency cases.

In Peninsular Malaysia, Ulu Perak Orang Asli Network coordinator Abdul Rahman Hassan said that there were a few toddlers from the Kemar resettlement programme who had died from fever because they could not get to the Gerik hospital in time.

The 50km journey would take one hour and 40 minutes by boat on the Temenggor Lake and a ride on a kereta sapu (unlicensed rental car) to Gerik town, he said.

"Some who don't have the money don't go to hospital at all," he said.

There are 5,200 Temiars in Kemar and 2,500 Jahais in Air Banun at Temenggor Lake.

Kelantan Orang Asli Network deputy chairman Arom Asir said the Orang Asli Welfare Department used to provide transportation to the hospital.

However, he claimed that the service was no longer provided since 2000.

Meanwhile, the United Nations will commemorate the International Day of the World's Indigenous People on Aug 9.