Since Independence, gained in 1957, major changes have occurred in the rural areas of Malaysia not least amongst which has been the provision of maternal and child care services to hitherto neglected areas. In the first part of this paper, the demographic and disease patterns are described. The second part outlines the general development efforts and describes in greater detail the rural health services that have been organized in Malaysia. In the concluding section, changes in mortality and morbidity are examined.
Domiciliary deliveries have always been the responsibility of traditional birth attendants. Since Independence, acquired in 1957, educated young women have been trained as auxiliary midwives and sent to serve in rural communities where they usually are met with resistance by the established traditional birth attendants. To counter this and to incorporate the traditional birth attendants into the health team, new roles were developed for each so that the two would be able to cooperate and support each other rather than rival and antagonise each other. A specific experience in one area of Malaysia is examined as an example.
The definition of primary health care is basically the same, but the wide variety of concepts as to the form and type of worker required is largely due to variations in economic, demographic, socio-cultural and political factors. Whatever form it takes, in many parts of the developing world, it is increasingly clear that primary health care must be provided by non-physicians. The reasons for this trend are compelling, yet it is surprisingly opposed by the medical profession in many a developing country. Nonetheless, numerous field trials are being conducted in a variety of situations in several countries around the world. Non-physician primary health care workers vary from medical assistants and nurse practitioners to aide-level workers called village mobilizers, village volunteers, village aides and a variety of other names. The functions, limitations and training of such workers will need to be defined, so that an optimal combination of skills, knowledge and attitudes best suited to produce the desired effect on local health problems may be attained. The supervision of such workers by the physician and other health professionals will need to be developed in the spirit of the health team. An example of the use of non-physicians in providing primary health care in Sarawak is outlined.