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Reaching Indigenous Children In Malaysia Through One Health Programs

" Although the preparations for these programs were tedious and challenging, the team’s feedback from the hundreds of university students and the Orang Asli children made all this hard work worthwhile. It has been an enjoyable and poignant journey for the team as well. The friendship and network formed between the team members have resulted in many One Health projects outside the realms of Malaysia One Health University Network. We hope to continue and expand the program in years to come and involve more Orang Asli children from different parts of the country with the help of MyOHUN." - Prof. Dato’ Dr. Abdul Rashid

In Peninsular Malaysia, the Orang Asli are indigenous people and a marginalized community that is deprived of mainstream education and access to health care. Most of the Orang Asli live in forests and are hunters and gatherers. Due to their proximity to wildlife, limited access to protective resources, and poverty, they are also a community living in a high-risk setting for potential zoonotic disease spillover.

Professor Dato’ Dr. Abdul Rashid of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and University College Dublin (RCSI & UCD) Malaysia Campus, and his interdisciplinary colleagues from universities throughout Malaysia, are committed to empowering Orang Asli school children with awareness and knowledge concerning zoonotic diseases. Professor Rashid’s program also mobilizes students from different courses and universities and gives them the opportunity for experiential hands-on learning of One Health core and technical competencies. These students are sometimes reluctant and even seem lost at the beginning of the program. However, by the end, they transform into a cohesive One Health team. Feedback and reflections have shown that students in the program network and bond with one another, which we hope will last a lifetime as they grow into the future One Health workforce.

The Orang Asli villages are located in remote and not easily accessible areas, and the MyOHUN teams of students and and their faculty supervisors face multiple challenges accessing and engaging these communities. Staying on a houseboat, using speed boats and off-road vehicles, and hiking to remote forest locations are all part of the educational journey. Because of varying educational levels among the indigenous children, the health promotion materials were custom-made to feature widely accessible graphics.

The children are very eager to learn, absorb the information well, and participate in the activities enthusiastically. When the program ends, disappointment is apparent and the children inquire about when the teachers will return.

Our program continues to show that when provided resources and opportunities, youth are the promise of a brighter and healthier future. By reaching and educating these school-aged children, we believe the impact is manifold, as they share this information with parents, siblings, and friends.

- Personal protective equipment, distancing, and group size standards in this photo were consistent with local public health guidance and COVID-19 status in the specific country and time it was taken. This may not reflect best practices for all locations where COVID-19 is still spreading. -

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