TWN Info Service on Health Issues (Mac 10/01)
11 March 2010
Third World Network

Dear Friends,

Malaysian Aboriginals: The Sorry State of Health

Enclosed are two news articles: a report by Malaysiakini (an online news portal) on disclosures made by Dr. Selva Vathany Pillai concerning malpractice and the misappropriation of resources by hospital authorities at the Gombak Hospital.

This hospital was specially set up to provide health care services to the Orang Asli (translated as ďoriginal peoplesĒ) who are the aboriginal peoples of Peninsular Malaysia.

The second, from a local daily theSun, details the lack of action taken by the authorities despite the shocking disclosures.

The Orang Asli (comprising 18 ethnic subgroups) make up some 0.6 percent of the Malaysian population with the highest level of poverty, lowest life expectancy and highest rate of malnutrition, infant mortality and maternal mortality.

Under the law, all aspects of their lives are Ďmanagedí by the Orang Asli Affairs Department (JHEOA). In short they are wards of the state with limited autonomy over their own affairs.

With best wishes
Evelyne Hong
Third World Network

Doc spills beans on Orang Asli hospital

By Yip Ai Tsin, Malaysiakini, Feb 12, 2010

A doctor from the Orang Asli Affairs Department (JHEOA) Hospital, Gombak has made startling claims of rampant malpractice, misappropriation of resources and other wrongdoings by its staff.

Dr KP Selvaa Vathany, who has been attached to the hospital since March last year, made the claims today in order to pressure the authorities into conducting a proper investigation.

"The hospital has deviated from its original objective, which is to provide healthcare provisions and medical services to the Orang Asli people," she said, during the press conference at the Bar Council headquarters, yesterday.

She was accompanied by former Bar Council president Ambiga Sreenevasan and Bar Council's Orang Asli Affairs Committee head Augustine Anthony.

Citing an example, Selvaa Vathany said the hospital's essential supplies scheme has been abused and the goods are not reaching the target group.

"For instance, a tin of infant milk is divided into six small packets with 15 to 20 packets distributed to a village of between 250 to 500 people.

"It is disheartening to see mothers clamouring for milk powder," she said.

Salvaa Vathany also alleged that JHEOA Hospital's funds for 'food baskets' to curb malnourishment among Orang Asli children had been misappropriated.

Complaints unheeded

She notes that the programme was in view that Orang Asli children were 15 times more likely to die from malnourishment compared to other children.

"Essentials given out are limited to one to two bottles of cooking oil, six to eight tins of canned food, two packets of 400gram Milo, 15 to 20 small packets of milk powder, 10 to 20 diapers, two bottles of detergent and 10 to 20 pairs of slippers, per visit.

"These are distributed at random and stored in a black bin bag. If the villagers are lucky, distribution could be as frequent as once in every two to three months," she said.

She said hospital administrators incapable of following Health Ministry protocols and standards were made hospital administrators and were from the Rural and Regional Development Ministry without medical training.

Selvaa Vathany alleged that complaints have been made to the Prime Minister's Department, Rural and Regional Development Ministry, Health Ministry, chief secretary, Public Service Department and Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to no avail.

However, a team sent investigate the allegations comprised of the Rural and Regional Development Ministry, who tried to cover up the matter.

"They questioned the complaint and remarks made by the Orang Asli in an unprofessional manner. The complainants were also intimidated and threatened.

"Despite all efforts taken, investigations are delayed and medical staffs are persecuted severely and threatened for trying to do so," she said.


Still no action after shocking allegation by doc

theSun, 9 March 2010

Action has yet to be taken to address shocking allegations lodged against the management of the Orang Asli hospital in Gombak despite the departmentís promise that the matter has been "investigated" and a report is pending.

Following a protest on Feb 24 staged by 30 orang asli to highlight their grievances, the hospital management held a meeting on March 1 together with the Orang Asli Affairs Department deputy director-general Nisra Nisran Asra Ramlan, several doctors and other staff to discuss issues raised.

The hospital's director Dr Saaiah Abdullah was also at the meeting.

theSun had reported that a former medical-officer at the hospital Dr Selvaa Vathany Pillai had exposed mismanagement of the hospital, resulting in poor health care services for the orang asli. She also alleged misappropriation of funds, resulting in poor aid distribution.

At least three police reports have been lodged by orang asli against the hospital staff for mistreatment, and for threats against them for bringing up complaints.

During the protest, a petition was submitted to the departmentís director-general Sani Mistam and Nisra. However, Sani dismissed some of the demands as "old issues" and challenged them to forward the matter to Suhakam.

Sources said the March 1 meeting also involved those who were named in the police reports. They said since then, several more meetings have been held.

theSun has copies of the reports lodged at the Gombak police station and they detailed alleged mistreatment of patients.

It is learnt a senior official warned the staff that those who had a problem with the hospital administration could apply for transfer and that staff could be transferred without a valid reason or notice.

A source claimed that numerous attempts have been made to transfer staff who acted as whistle-blowers, and Selvaa was the latest case. She was transferred to Kedah on March 1, purportedly under the "directive of the health ministry".

The ministry, when asked by theSun why she was transferred, merely said it was done based on "needs for service" in Kedah.

Selvaa, in reply, said she was not fighting her transfer as she felt the orang asli issue should be the focus.

"The government has to be sensitive about who they chose to work at the hospital and constantly monitor their progress, particularly since it was supposed to cater for orang asli communities that are not known to protest.

"I am not anti-government. However, I am a trained professional and I cannot accept the things which have been going on, partly caused by decisions influenced by people who are not trained in the medical profession," said Selvaa.

On Feb 24, when met at the hospital, Nisra had denied any knowledge of a police report lodged against him. However, when presented with a copy by reporters, he said: "The matter is out of my hands, as it is currently under police investigation."

Attempts by reporters to meet hospital director Saaiah on Feb 24 failed. theSun has tried several times to reach her to no avail.

The department, in an email response to theSun on Feb 25, denied any mistreatment of patients at the hospital as alleged, stating that Gek Bachik, Bah Lan Bah Din and Meli Mat Riffin who had lodged police reports for mistreatment did not exist in their records and never had treatment at the hospital.

It however acknowledged a police report lodged by Gek, who in March last year lost his 11-year-old daughter Zaslie Gek one month after she allegedly failed to receive proper treatment for dengue at the hospital. It said the matter is now out of their hands.

Bar Council immediate past-president Datuk Ambiga Sreenivasen has pledged support for the orang asliís cause and promised to help them forward the Feb 24 petition to Suhakam.

"It is time we stop treating the orang asli like children who canít think for themselves," she said.