10 things about: Dr Mohd Lutfi, chief executive of Hospitals Beyond Boundaries

Picture by Saw Siow Feng
Picture by Saw Siow Feng

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SHAH ALAM, Nov 13 — Growing up in a family of medical practitioners, Dr Mohd Lutfi Fadil Lokman was inclined to follow in their footsteps after his SPM examination.

In his first year at medical school in Bandung, Indonesia, he saw first hand the disparity between the rich and poor when it came to receiving medical care.

It was then that the 29-year-old decided to do something about it.

Unlike his peers who aspired to become specialists, he  wanted to start his own charity organisation to provide medical aid for the poor.

In his final year of medical school, he founded Hospitals Beyond Boundaries (HBB) in Cambodia, a clinic on the outskirts of Phnom Penh dedicated to improving the health of vulnerable communities through sustainable health care efforts.

Dr Mohd Lutfi is also a research assistant with the Health Ministry where he helps a team of some 50 people study new healthcare systems and policies for the government.

Today, not only has he made the country proud by becoming one of the 17 United Nations Young Leaders for Sustainable Development Goals 2016, he was also given a special mention by the prime minister at the tabling of Budget 2017 as an icon among youths in the field of health.

Recently he sat down with Malay Mail Online to chat about his journey and passion in the field.

In his own words:

I grew up in Gombak and I am the second of five children in my family my dad was an ear, nose and throat surgeon while my mum is a retired pharmacist. My siblings, some of them are in medical school and my uncle and aunts are also doctors. My interest in public policy in relation to healthcare came when I was in my first year in medical school in Bandung... before this I was a KL boy and having a comfortable life so I didn’t really know this side of the world.

Research I do at the ministry can also be used for HBB and UN on studying sustainable goals in the health sector. My wife, who is also a doctor at the Sungai Buloh Hospital, is also among the 13 founding members of HBB so we are connected in life and work.

The idea of HBB, as I have said before, came about when I was in Bandung. When I saw the poor there, it clicked instantly that they needed help and it should not be a one-off help. Most charity in the form of medical assistance would come in times of floods or disasters but they leave once the system is restored but I didn’t want that. I wanted my assistance to be continuous and remain in the long run. That is how HBB came about.

In Cambodia, there is also a huge disparity between the poor and rich like in Bandung. So our model is simple, the rich are willing to help the poor, so when they seek treatment from HBB, they pay a standard amount and that amount is enough to cover the treatment for the poor as well, therefore, creating a form of cross-subsidisation. However, the amount received is only enough to cover the operating expenditure. As for capital expenditure, we rely on donors from around the world. HBB has six permanent staff, from the local community, and all of them are salaried workers.

Being the chief executive in HBB was initially a struggle given my age. Donors were not convinced of my capability so funding became a real issue in the beginning. The first roadshow we did, we shared a booth and only managed to collect RM300. We did not give up as we used that money to conduct basic health screening and kept moving forward. My family members gave me the support, financially and morally, so I am forever grateful to them because without them, HBB would not have become a reality.

I was over the moon when I got the news about my selection by the UN. I view the appointment as a huge responsibility as my role is to empower and engage young people on the realisation of strategic development goals, in the medical line, with the UN. Basically, we are allowed to work from our own countries to advocate goals for changes; promote innovative ways of realising this; and simply cultivate young leaders among us.

At the Institute of Health Systems Research, I work with about 50 other medical officers and researchers to study ways on how to improve medical care service in the country. This is something I wanted to do after my housemanship at the Sungai Buloh Hospital six months ago.

Actually, the health care system in the country is considerably good. We have good doctors and a good system to go with it, but of course there is always room for improvement. If you compare to countries like Singapore and Germany, there is ample room for improvement in Malaysia.

For instance, the government is bearing an extremely high cost in medical subsidy at government hospitals. Treating diseases like hepatitis and cancer is very costly and thus sucks up a lot of fund from the government. Like the NHS (National Health Service) in the UK, we should also have a partnership between the private and public sector to collectively work towards providing a better healthcare system. We can also have the introduction of a medical insurance card issued by the government to every Malaysian and the payment method must be made compulsory with a nominal amount. This way, citizens are protected for life and medical subsidy by the government is reduced.

I tell this to all, don’t put off your dreams to help people by hoping to do so at a later time. You can do it now and it doesn’t have to be anything fancy. When I was young, I suffered an injury to my head. There was fluid coming out my ear and it was later known that the fluid was coming from my brain and I couldn’t walk as it had affected my balance. Anyway, to make a long story short, I thought I was going to die and prayed that if I recovered I would not wait to initiate my own charity organisation. With God’s grace, I was able to walk weeks later and initiated work on HBB soon after. Although I have kind of recovered from the incident, I have this tinnitus in my left ear permanently until today that reminds me that life can be short and that everyone should make the best out of it.

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