MAMSA Volunteering trip 2017: Sabah
On 9th January 2017, a group of 8 MAMSA members traveled to the rural regions of Sabah, East Malaysia, together with Impian Sabah for a medical volunteering trip. In line with our main mission to provide basic health support to rural residents, our team consisted of two doctors, two dentists, a pharmacist, two dentistry students, and of course, our team of 8 medical students.
We were to set up mobile clinics over the 5 days in 2 villages – namely Kampung Alutok, and Kampung Pangi. (And no, you can’t find them on Google Maps…)
A little background on the area:
The nearest town to the villages was called Tenom (previously Fort Birch), located in the interior division of Sabah. Due to its demographic profile, Tenom is relatively isolated from big cities and is only accessible via a 4 hour drive from the Kota Kinabalu town centre. Interestingly, it is known by many for its high quality coffee beans.
After a 2-hour flight to Kota Kinabalu Airport, our group rendezvoused with the local coordinators and the other half of the volunteers.
Then began the long and arduous journey to the first village – Kampung Alutok. It involved an hour-long train-ride and a 4 hour-drive from the nearest town, in a small van, up windy and dirt roads through rainforests and mountains.
And below.. is the scenery we were greeted by…
Peaceful, quiet village nestled between the rainforest. Children, running around care-free, little puffs of smoke from kitchens, and a lovely sunset.
The villagers gave us a really warm welcome, and cooked us one of their traditional dishes – stir-fried banana flower. With meat, they still use the traditional way of using coal to cook, which made it really aromatic.
That evening, we set off to work, and set up camp in the community hall to prepare for day 2…
6 stations were set up to cater for the needs of all the villagers: 1. Blood pressure/blood sugar level monitoring, 2. weight/BMI, 3. paediatric assessment, 4. doctor’s consultation, 5. dentistry procedures and 6. pharmacy. 8 of us were then rostered to different stations throughout the 2 days of the project at different times of the day.
The crowded waiting area.
Measuring Blood Pressure
Checking blood sugar levels
“What is this pharmacy?” you might ask. Thanks to the generosity of a few doctors, they have sponsored boxes worth of medication to be dispensed to the villagers. It included common medications such as mild-antibiotics, lotions, cough and flu medications, anti-lice, anti-fungals and pain-killers. Under the guidance of a registered pharmacist, we also had the opportunity to learn and help in sorting and packing medication packs for patients, according to doctors’ prescription lists.
The dentists brought over equipment and a reclining chair to carry out their jobs! They did things like scaling, general check-ups and teeth extractions. It was pretty amazing given the limitation of resources that were available – many patients came in for overdue dental procedures as well as management of diseases such as scabies and malnutrition.
We served about 340 people that day. After a tiring day of hard work, we packed up to prepare to move to a different village the next day. The villagers were so kind to perform one of their folk dances for us, dressed in traditional glamorous outfits. We even had the chance to learn some simple dance moves after the show!
Next stop – Kampung Pangi. After another 2-hour train ride, we were dropped in the middle of the train tracks (quite literally). Then it was a matter of taking a raft across a huge river. We were greeted by villagers at a riverbank, who loaded our belongings and supplies and brought half of us across the river as we struggled not to capsize under the load. The second half of the group had the luxury of swaying across a rickety rope bridge with their supplies.
And this was the village…
This made the first village we visited look like a hotel stay, even the animals here looked sicker than the ones we saw in Kampung Alutok. Kampung Pangi probably had about 40 families staying there, with only one public toilet for everyone. We were kindly offered accommodation by 2 families here and many of us had our first experience living in a traditional tall legged wooden house!
We proceeded to set up camp like we did in the previous village. That night, we also had a debriefing session and case discussion on things that we saw, like hand-foot-mouth disease, which is now rare in the modern world.
We also held educational talks about general health and wellness, dental hygiene, breast-feeding, and mental health
That day, as word went around, we served about 250 people, including those who have travelled a long way from other surrounding villages to seek advice and services as well.
Our stay in the village ended with a ‘Tapai’ session (Tapai is a type of rice wine, commonly brewed by villagers themselves and served mostly during important events/to guests) and joyful karaoke performances by the villagers.
It was an eye-opening experience for us to be able to personally experience first line clinical medicine through providing simple health screening and talking to the villagers. The trip truly highlighted the discrepancy between healthcare standards that exist due to the differences in accessibility. A short trip like this will not change the underlying socioeconomic stressors that affects the standard of healthcare in general, but we hope that we have in some way touched lives or provided some acute aid for those who truly needed it.
Interested to join us on our next mission trip? Follow us on Facebook for more details!