Sarawak’s Hidden Health Scandal – Maternal Deaths

Sarawak Report

The Sarawak Government has been covering up a health scandal by deliberately concealing the true level of maternal deaths, according to exclusive information which has been made available to Sarawak Report.

Concerned doctors and health professionals have been investigating the true level of inadequate health care provided in the state, which is the richest in terms of resources in the whole of Malaysia.  They say their findings show that the deaths of women in childbirth are far higher than are being admitted to in the official statistics, yet the spending on healthcare per person in the state is less than one quarter the amount spent on health care in West Malaysia! 

“Sarawak is a large state with a small population spread over difficult terrain” commented one of the health professionals who passed on their information to Sarawak Report.  “This means that you would expect far more money to be needed to provide adequate healthcare, not less.  But the BN Government has clearly chosen to abandon the indigenous people of the interior instead.” 

No facilities for problem childbirths 

No way to travel in an emergency – crammed in the boot on a road like this. No wonder so many women die if things go wrong.

The shocking figures bear out the practical experience of doctors working in the field in Sarawak.  Another senior obstetrician commented that most women from the interior suffer grave risk in childbirth, because the simple precaution of bringing them into hospital a few days before they are due to give birth has been ignored by the authorities.  

“This precaution would be very cheap in comparison with the flying doctor service, which is a big waste of money” he commented.  However, he says that since there is no opportunity for profit-making by people in power, there has been no interest in developing this method of saving hundreds of lives. 

The obstetrician also commented that poverty and the appalling state of the roads are a major factor in deaths in childbirth.  “People are getting poorer and costs of food an fuel are getting higher.  This makes the women less strong and they cannot afford to go to hospital. If there is an emergency the roads are so bad it takes too long”. 

Key statistics    

Waiting in line – these women have made it to hospital

“We believe the Sarawak Health Department are fudging its figures.  They are quoting the standardised figures for the whole of Malaysia and then just dividing them by the number of pregnancies in Sarawak.  But in fact what available information there is implies that the death-rate is far higher in Sarawak .  A paper published in 2008 based on genuine research in the 1990s shows that at least 92 in 100,000 women were dying in childbirth then, compared to the 30 in 100,000 currently quoted by the Sarawak Health Department.  There has been no improvement in Sarawak’s health facilities since then and we challenge the Sarawak Health Department to produce the evidence for their statistics.”

The contested figures are to be found in the Sarawak State Health Department’s publication ‘Health Facts About Sarawak’, published 2008.  However, the experts say that it is not based on genuine research in Sarawak, only on Malaysia-wide statistics.

Misleading statistics? 30 deaths in 10,000 births is the story according to the Sarawak Health Department.

By contrast the doctors say that a paper published in the book “Women and Health – Village Mothers, City Daughters” 2007, by Adeda Baer, quotes a peer-reviewed report “Sudden Maternal Deaths in Malaysia – A Case Report” by R Jejasothy in the internationally accepted Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecological Research (Vol 28, No 4, pg 186-93) calculates the death rate to be 92 in 10,000 births.

Low spending for Sarawakians – less than one quarter what is spent on average Malaysians on health!

The doctors also point to shocking figures that indicate the people of Sarawak receive less than a quarter in health spending per person compared to people in mainland Malaysia, even though the remote communities would indicate the need to spend more money not less.

The same Sarawak State Health Department figures say only RM 422 is spent per person in Sarawak on health each year, whereas World Health Organisation figures state that the average spending per person in Malaysia is RM 1,800.