Gombak Hospital returned to the Orang Asli

By Lim Chee Wee, President, Bar Council

The Gombak Orang Asli Hospital was established by the British in 1957 as a dedicated hospital for the Orang Asli.  It is, to date, the only facility of its kind in the country, which is able to offer lodging to Orang Asli who accompany their ailing family members for treatment.

In its early days, Orang Asli were also employed to bridge the gap between the Orang Asli patients and the doctors.  After the departure of the British, the management of the hospital went into the hands of the Jabatan Kemajuan Orang Asli (“JAKOA”).

The hospital has recently been plagued with controversy.  There have been numerous complaints by the Orang Asli, their representatives and Dr Selva Pillai, a former doctor at the hospital, over the deteriorating standards of medical care and facilities at the hospital under the administration of JAKOA.

These complaints included serious allegations of negligence, mismanagement and the failure to follow the Ministry of Health’s guidelines on treating childhood malnutrition.

The complaints were subsequently brought to the attention of Bar Council and SUHAKAM.  Representations were made to the Director General of Health to intervene in the matter and deal with the plight of the Orang Asli.

It was recently reported that the Ministry of Health has agreed to take over the administration of the Gombak Orang Asli Hospital from JAKOA.

The Malaysian Bar welcomes this decision of the Ministry of Health.  The government’s intervention to assume responsibility for the medical services in the hospital is timely and apposite.  It accords well with the notion of a caring and responsible government, which responds to the needs of the underprivileged minorities in society.

Thus, it is hoped that under the new hospital management, the current and pressing health issues of the Orang Asli will be speedily addressed, and the well-being of the Orang Asli community will remain at the forefront of the consideration of the hospital authorities.

The Malaysian Bar also hopes that the hospital will be a place of employment and a training ground for the Orang Asli, so that it can one day be completely staffed and managed by the Orang Asli.

Perhaps the day will soon come when the medical personnel of the hospital will all be members of the Orang Asli community.   Then, the hospital will truly be an Orang Asli Hospital, for the Orang Asli, by the Orang Asli.