The changing way of life and the deteriorating environmental conditions in the forest are having a negative impact on the Penan’s state of health and their social situation. In order to counteract that, the Bruno Manser Fund is endeavouring to improve the level of general healthcare by having medical teams pay regular visits to the Penan communities. Furthermore, the BMF is participating in providing the Penan with information and training in preventive healthcare measures.
Health and social consequences of forest destruction
The Penan depend on the rainforest not only for food but also for medical care, notably the availability of plants with medicinal properties. As a consequence of deforestation and the conversion of the rainforest into plantations, many Penan are suffering from health and social problems. The unaccustomed farming activities are causing new health problems, such as backache.
The easier access to industrially produced food is also leading to more frequent dental complaints. Moreover, many years of state discrimination against the indigenous population is reflected in the absence of medical infrastructure in the Penan regions. That means that there is no proper treatment for diseases and injuries, be they severe or only minor.
Improved access to medical care and better prevention
For the reasons given, the Bruno Manser Fund decided to set up its medical project with the aim of improving the general health situation of the Penan communities.
The first part of the project involves the provision of routine medical and dental screening in villages. A volunteer team of local doctors visits the larger villages between three and four times a year and offers medical checks. In addition to that, a volunteer team from Switzerland performs medical consultations and treatments throughout the whole project territory. Every two years, this "mobile clinic" visits the small, remote villages and thus reaches patients who would otherwise have no access at all to medical care. Given the large number of disorders of the mouth, teeth and jaws, a dentist was added to this mobile team in 2013.
The second part of the project consists in the provision of information about general preventive measures (such as drinking water, refuse disposal and dental hygiene) and the Penan's rights in the state healthcare system. It is of central importance to ensure that the information material is available in the Penan language.
One of the project's particular focal points is the situation of the women. They are often more difficult to reach and exposed to other risks, which is why they also need to be given special consideration. Part of this is ensuring that a specialist in matters of concern to women is also available in the mobile teams. Nurse Beatcsy Geoffrey also plays a key role here. As a Penan, she accompanies all the teams on their trips into the project area. The patients are then able to speak about their situation in their mother tongue. For women, in particular, this creates an atmosphere of trust in which they can then discuss their health, family planning and the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases.