Empowering Indigenous Community Project-Healthcare: Bridging Gaps, Building Health

In a concerted effort to elevate healthcare access and awareness within indigenous communities, an impactful initiative titled “Empowering Indigenous Community Project-Healthcare” was recently conducted in the villages of Kampung Jong and Kampung Petoh, nestled in the heart of Pahang. 

This healthcare initiative was made possible through collaborative efforts between the Universiti Malaya Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Malaya Faculty of Dentistry, and the University of Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC), along with external collaborators, namely Perlis Plantations Berhad and the Breast Cancer Welfare Association Malaysia (BCWA). The collaboration extended beyond academic institutions, involving various stakeholders committed to addressing health disparities among the indigenous population.

The program spanned from January 6th to 7th, 2024, and encompassed a series of health screenings and educational sessions. The first day, located in Kampung Jong, Pekan, catered to 81 individuals, followed by a second day in Kampung Petoh, Rompin, engaging 142 villagers. This two-day program aimed at providing comprehensive and accessible health screenings for the Orang Asli community, focusing on common health issues such as hypertension, diabetes, and dental problems. The platform was also utilized to provide health education, specifically on issues such as breast cancer awareness, nutrition, non-communicable diseases, and the importance of maintaining good oral hygiene. 

Throughout the two-day event, volunteers and healthcare professionals engaged in a series of impactful activities such as general health screening, conducting visual acuity tests, providing deworming treatment and offering dental examinations and treatments. These screenings provided valuable insights into the prevalent health conditions within the community. 

The program also featured interactive sessions where local children were taught proper teeth-brushing techniques, medical consultations were offered to address specific health concerns, and women were taught methods of performing Breast Self-Examination (BSE). These diverse activities aimed not only to detect and address immediate health issues but also to empower the community with knowledge, fostering a proactive approach towards their well-being. 

Our program was able to benefit a total of 81 villagers (49 adults and 32 children) in Kampung Jong, and 142 villagers (120 adults and 22 children) in Kampung Petoh. Based on the health screening conducted, participants identified in need of further investigation or follow-up of treatment were referred to the nearest Health Clinics.  

In both villages, clinical breast examinations were performed for a total of 73 women, revealing abnormal findings in 2 individuals. Additionally, 85 women received education on the importance and method of self-breast examination. The dental team played a crucial role in the screenings, successfully examining a total of 59 children (aged 3 to 17 years old) and 159 adults throughout the two-day event. These combined efforts underscore the comprehensive approach taken to address various aspects of health and well-being within the community.

One of the significant challenges encountered during the program was continuous rainfall over the two days. This adverse weather condition posed a potential barrier to community participation. However, with a strong spirit of cooperation, the organizers worked with collaborators to arrange local transportation for villagers. This initiative proved to be successful in improving accessibility and uptake of services offered. Indeed, the robust spirit of collaboration demonstrated in executing this humanitarian mission was applaudable.

Beyond the statistics, the program’s societal impact was evident in the heightened awareness and proactive engagement of local residents in health screenings. Active involvement of the community proved instrumental in early detection and education, paving the way for positive lifestyle changes. From an academic perspective, the program provided invaluable hands-on experience for undergraduate and postgraduate students – contributing to the enhancement of their skills in planning, implementing, and evaluating community outreach projects. This program also holds potential for reducing the financial burden of costly hospitalizations by emphasizing preventive measures and early intervention for non communicable diseases. By fostering a culture of health consciousness, the initiative aligns with broader efforts to strengthen the overall healthcare system. 

The “Empowering Indigenous Community Project-Healthcare” Project not only achieved its objectives of providing essential healthcare services but also laid the groundwork for a healthier and more empowered community. This endeavor stands as a testament to the continuous commitment of our department to enhance healthcare access and elevate health awareness among marginalized communities. As we celebrate this achievement, we reiterate our dedication to serving and empowering communities for a healthier, brighter future.

Report prepared by: Dr Sumitra Ropini a/p Karuthan, Medical Officer, Department of Public Health, Universiti Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC).

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