PETALING JAYA: Atong Siyang, 69, a member of the Punan tribe in Sarawak, has a nerve issue with his backbone which requires treatment. But he has to bear the pain while waiting for movement restrictions to be lifted.
Atong lives in one of the longhouses in Belaga, Kapit Division, where the longhouse community has found difficulty in obtaining treatment for their health problems, and suffered loss of income from being locked down because of the spread of Covid-19.
Restrictions under the conditional movement control order (CMCO) also meant a loss of income for many of them who are farmers and not allowed to go out and tend to their farms.
Atong’s son, Gebriel Atong, told FMT that when the CMCO came into effect for residents of longhouses in Belaga, inter-district travel was prohibited, and “many people could not get the treatment needed for their ailments”.
Gebriel, a land rights activist, said longhouse residents often travelled by express boat from Belaga to Kapit but now they did not dare to travel due to the virus.
Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii agreed that the lack of health facilities in rural areas was a huge concern, and clinics in rural areas would not be able to cope with the surge in patients if a major outbreak of disease occurred.
Gebriel said many express boat operators had suffered losses and some had close down their business.
He urged the health ministry to give earlier notice to people living in rural areas who were next in line to get vaccinated.
“These people only get a two-day notice before their vaccinations. It’s not easy to inform them about it as they live in the outskirts. This is very short notice. At least notify them four or five days before their vaccination date so they can get ready,” he said.
Some had to take express boats to the Belaga health clinic (the only clinic that offered vaccinations in the district).
He also urged the government to expedite Covid-19 vaccinations among longhouse communities in rural areas to avoid more longhouse clusters.
Yii added a lot of longhouses had been put under the CMCO, causing a loss of income for many residents. “Many of them are farmers by trade but have been unable to leave their homes to tend to their farms. This has a significant impact on their livelihood,” he told FMT.
Yii suggested that a single-dose vaccine could be more practical for longhouses as it might be difficult for mobile vaccination teams to access these rural areas multiple times.
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