Tahar, (not his real name), is a 53-year-old fisherman who lives on Sanghai Island, Sandakan. He and his wife, Jun, 42, have two daughters, a 20-year-old who is studying at one of the universities in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, and a nine-year-old who is a Year 3 primary student.

His only source of income is the meagre amount he makes from his daily catch. Some of his earnings are used for his daughter’s college expenses. Even then, she has a part-time job to cover the remaining education cost and help out her family financially.

Since their village is far from the mainland, even basic utilities like water and electricity are hard to come by. Tahar collects rainwater for water supply and uses generators for electricity.

Behind his simple life, Tahar and his wife are fighting an ongoing battle. They have been living with HIV for the past 10 years and getting their antiretroviral (ARV) medications from Klinik Kesihatan Sandakan. They faced an even greater challenge when his wife was diagnosed with stage 3 cervical cancer in 2019.

Jun has undergone 27 treatments at Hospital Wanita dan Kanak-Kanak, Likas, including chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Now, she goes for follow-up treatment at KK Sandakan every 3 months. Both Tahar and Jun have to travel a great distance to reach get there. It takes them approximately 2 hours or more, depending on the weather conditions, to cross the sea by boat. Once they reach the mainland, they have to take a bus to KK Sandakan. All these travelling expenses took a toll on Tahar as he also has to take care of other family commitments.

“I am so thankful for the SAGA Health Access Programme (SHAPE). It really helps to reduce some of our financial burden to get our HIV treatment,” said Tahar.

Besides covering their travelling expenses, SHAPE also provides special accommodation in Likas if they have back-to-back appointments within the week.

“All I want is to live long enough to see my children grow up and be successful in life. SHAPE has helped a lot in our journey to get access to life-saving medications,” said Jun.