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Tangkarason clinic fire and its replacement show poor state of healthcare in Sabah’s interior

The temporary clinic uses tables, curtains, large pieces of cloth as screens to afford patients and medical staff some modicum of privacy during treatment.

SANDAKAN – The Tangkarason healthcare clinic, which has temporarily relocated to a multipurpose hall after its permanent building was razed in a fire last week, is nowhere near adequate and lacks the necessary medical equipment to treat the inhabitants of the nearby villages.

While villagers from Kampung Tangkarason in Sugut, Beluran, have started coming to the makeshift facility for treatment, medical personnel on site are struggling as the equipment they need has yet to arrive, a source familiar with the situation told Scoop.

Equipment such as nebulisers and oxygen tanks are lacking, leaving the facility unable to treat patients suffering from asthma attacks.

“Medical staff there told us that all the medical equipment was destroyed in the fire, and they have only received basic medical equipment for now.

“They are unable to treat emergencies, such as the case of one resident who had an asthma attack today, and he was sent to the Pitas hospital because the team here did not have a nebuliser,” the source told Scoop yesterday.

On February 15, the wooden building of the Tangkarason health clinic as well as the adjoining staff quarters was completely destroyed by fire.

Before the fire, the clinic was a wooden structure that was already in a dilapidated condition. It had to rely on rainwater for its water and generators from the village for electricity. – Pic courtesy of a local villager, February 23, 2024

The clinic catered to some 3,000 villagers from 13 nearby villages, including from islands nearby such as Pulau Jambongan.

Tangkarason is in the remote interior of Sabah’s Beluran district on the state’s northwest coast, and is approximately 190 km or a four-hour drive from Beluran town, and 230 km from Sandakan. 

The villages in the area also do not have treated water and electricity supply.

On Monday, four days after the fire, the Sabah Health Department set up the temporary clinic at the multipurpose hall, an arrangement that will have to last until the clinic proper is rebuilt.

The makeshift facility will continue to serve villagers in the area as the only other healthcare service provider is Pitas Hospital, a one-hour drive away from Tangkarason on 29 km of gravel road.

The temporary clinic utilises tables and curtains or large pieces of cloth as screens to afford patients and medical staff privacy during treatment.

The multipurpose hall belongs to a church in the area, and villagers banded together on Sunday to help the medical team set up the semblance of a clinic.

“We all helped out because we are the ones who will use the temporary clinic, so we felt we needed to help the medical team.

“Furthermore, the medical team has been very considerate to the villagers. Before the fire, the staff here keep the clinic open on weekends, public holidays, and even late in the evening because they know that some patients travel from villages far away. Some even come here by boat,” a resident said.

The fire and resulting shambolic arrangements for the clinic and its patients shows the lacklustre state of infrastructure and development in Sabah’s interior villages.

Before the fire, the Tangkarason health clinic was a wooden structure that was already in a dilapidated condition. It even had to rely on rainwater for water supply and generator sets from the villages for electricity.

Beluran is one of the ten poorest districts in Malaysia, according to the Statistics Department’s Poverty Index 2022 report.

Last Monday, Sabah Community Development and People’s Wellbeing Minister and Sabah Health exco Datuk James Ratib said that the rebuilding of the Tangkarason health clinic is seeing delays due to land issues.

He said the Federal Lands Commissioner had not applied for land on which the clinic is to be built, and a similar issue is faced by the Mansiat health clinic in Sook, Keningau.

Ratib criticised the Federal Lands Commissioner for failing to expedite the process of land allocation for government projects, saying other federal agencies in Sabah such as the education department are also facing delays because of land-related issues.

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