Ahmad Zamroni / Forbes Indonesia
Being an archipelago, infrastructure development in remote areas in Indonesia is among the most challenging tasks, and healthcare is no exception. With this in mind, Dr. Lie Dharmawan, now 70, founded DoctorShare, an organization of over 250 volunteers that since 2013 runs two floating hospitals and a flying doctor program reaching the most remote areas in the country with a free healthcare service. Last year, DoctorShare gave healthcare service to nearly 11,000 patients, including 859 surgeries, from Muara Sabak, Jambi, to Mappi, in Papua.
Dr. Lie is a surgeon who got his medical education in Germany. Coming from a poor family background, his passion to become a doctor and help people in need began in his childhood. He saw the difficulties of people around him to access healthcare—one of his brothers died as a child because of acute diarrhea because he did not get proper medication. His idea to provide a medical service on a boat came in March 2009, when DoctorShare gave free medical service in Langgur, in southeast Maluku. A mother sailed three nights to bring her daughter—suffering intussusceptions—for treatment. In theory, the child should have gotten surgery within eight hours, but the child survived.
“We cannot wait, the solution is bringing the infrastructure, the healthcare service, to the underprivileged living in remote areas,” says Lie. Therefore, in 2012, Lie decided to buy an old phinisi boat and built a hospital on it out of his own pocket. The boat is able to carry loads up to 250 tonnes and traded with nearby islands—from Palembang to Riau and Batam. The boat also has a high draft of 4.4 meters, so the surgery room inside the hull is more stable to waves. Aside from the surgery room, the boat also has other equipment such as x-ray and a lab. With the first boat, he sailed to the remote islands in the west and the east.
“Luckily I didn’t know much about boat and even sailed to the eastern part of the country when the tides were high. People were amazed; they asked if I had sailed on that ship to Papua? I didn’t really understand the risks, that’s why I have the guts. Once we sailed in a storm, and we felt like a box of matches tossed into a river,” he laughs.
His effort gained other’s support. Partnering with the Ekadharma Foundation, DoctorShare launched the second floating hospital named RSA Nusa Waluya I in 2015. The second ship is bigger and made of steel. Lie is also aware that the floating hospital is only ideal for giving healthcare service in small islands. To help those living in big islands like Papua, DoctorShare also launched the flying doctor program. While around 15 to 20 people run the floating hospital, the flying doctor carries a smaller team of up to eight people. They reach the most remote areas because in some places there aren’t any roads.
The most common health problems are respiratory infections and surgeries to treat hernias and tumors. For cases that should be done in a real hospital, the patient is flown to a nearby big city. However, Lie says the challenge he and his team faces are mostly funding. DoctorShare spends over Rp 10 billion a year, and for the flying doctors, each flight cost above Rp 100 million to nearly Rp 300 million and the rest is mostly for the floating hospitals, and all of that has to come from public donations.