DAP calls for the resignation of Chua Jui Meng as Health Minister for failing to launch a high-impact national awareness campaign against the virulent dengue outbreak which has claimed some 53 lives before end of the year, five short of the worst dengue outbreak in 1998 which killed 58 – and for allowing rampant misinformation about the gravity of the dengue outbreak
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang Jaya, Monday): DAP calls for the resignation of Datuk Chua Jui Meng as Health Minister for failing to launch a high-impact national awareness campaign against the virulent dengue outbreak which has claimed some 53 lives before end of the year, five short of the worst dengue outbreak in 1998 which killed 58 – and for allowing rampant misinformation about the gravity of the outbreak.
This is my fifth media statement on the virulent dengue outbreak since December 14, calling on Chua not to delay any further in initiating an immediate high-impact media campaign to create instant nation-wide alert and awareness of the virulent dengue outbreak to stop any more loss of human lives, especially children who have suffered the most fatalities as compared to previous years, and to ensure that 2002 does not become the worst year in the nation's history with the most number of reported dengue cases and the highest case-fatality rate (CFR).
Chua should make public the number of dengue cases and deaths in the past 16 days.
In my first media statement of 14th December 2002, I referred to September press reports of a total of 17,341 cases and 34 deaths from January to the end of August of the year from the dengue outbreak, which was a sharp increase from the comparative period last year.
New Straits Times of 13th September 2002, for instance, reported that the new virus, Dengue 3, which was more serious than others, had already claimed four lives in the Federal Territory during the year, which occurred in Desa Tasik Sungai Besi, Rumah Panjang Pudu Ulu in Cheras, Kampung Sungai Penchala and Kampung Sejahtera.
It also reported that out of the 17, 341 cases reported until the end of August, Selangor topped the list with 4,993 cases followed by Federal Territory ( 4,094), Johor (1,576) and Perak (1,521).
In my second media statement of 15th December 2002, I referred to the Nanyang Siang Pau front-page headline report of the dengue outbreak, where its reporters totalled the figures they have compiled from the various states and reported a total of 13,000 dengue cases and 40 deaths for the first ten months, stating that these figures were near the number of 13,742 dengue cases in 1998, the worst year of dengue outbreak in the nation’s history.
I pointed out that the Nanyang Siang Pau front-page headline report had given wrong figures, both for the total for the first ten months of the year and for the worst dengue outbreak in 1998, which was 27,379 cases and 58 deaths and not 13,742 cases.
The total of 13,000 dengue cases in the first 10 months of the year was a gross underestimate, not only because of September press reports of 17,341 cases in the first eight months of the year, but also because of the Health Ministry’s official estimate of 12,992 cases in the first seven months of the year, with Selangor topping the list with 4,148 cases, followed by the Federal Territory (3,158) and Perak (1,353).
Nanyang Siang Pau was quite accurate, however, when it reported some 40 deaths from the dengue outbreak, with the following breakdown of 38 deaths: Selangor (12 - by 3rd November), Johore (13 – till end-October), Perak (10 – November) and Negri Sembilan (3 – August). It did not mention the four deaths in the Federal Territory by end of August, which would have brought the total toll to 42. It also did not mention deaths in other states such as Sarawak and Kelantan.
Saturday’s Star quoted the Health Ministry parliamentary secretary, S. Sothinathan, as stating in Port Dickson that some 53 deaths had been reported since the beginning of the year in the dengue outbreak, with Selangor topping the list with 10,753 cases – although he did not clarify whether the figure was till the end of November or at a later date.
He warned that dengue fever had “already reached an alarming stage” in Malaysia and that the World Health Organisation (WHO) had issued a red alert of a possible outbreak.
I get the impression that Sothinathan had inadvertently let slip the figure of 53 deaths so far this year from the dengue outbreak, as the very next day, the Deputy Health Minister, Datuk Seri Suleiman Mohamad countered Sothinathan’s statement by declaring that the dengue situation was “under control” and had not reached an “alarming stage”. (Mingguan Malaysia 29.12.02)
Sulaiman did not deny that the dengue outbreak has claimed 53 lives this year; nor did he explain when the government would regard the dengue outbreak as “alarming” – whether more lives must be lost, whether the death toll must match the worst fatality rate of 58 during the worst dengue year in 1998 or whether there is now a much higher ceiling for fatalities before the health authorities will stop talking about the situation as still “under control” and not yet “alarming”.
Sothinathan must have been censured in the Health Ministry for his inadvertent disclosure for he also came out with the assertion in the front-page of Berita Minggu yesterday that the increase in the dengue cases “belum boleh di klasifikasikan sebagai wabak”, and made the astonishing and completely untrue statement that “jumlah kes yang dicatatkan sehingga hari ini kurang berbanding tahun lalu dalam tempoh masa yang sama”.
NST report of 13.9.02 gave the following statistics of dengue cases in previous years:
As Sothinathan said in Port Dickson on Friday that there were 10,753 dengue cases in Selangor reported this year – this means that the number of dengue cases reported in one state alone in Selangor is already more than the total number of 7,110 cases for the whole country for 2001. Can he explain how he could declare that the number of reported cases of dengue for this year is less than the comparative period the previous year, when it is preposterously false and untrue?
This raises a very disturbing pattern of deliberate misinformation about the gravity of the outbreak, relating to the number of cases and fatalities.
Yesterday, Berita Harian carried a front-page report entitled “Kes denggi meningkat – Wad di HKL sesak, katil tidak mencukupi” followed by another report of a country-wide survey in page 6 under the heading “Kes denggi seluruh Negara makin serius”.
The Berita Harian reporters were however unable to collate the correct statistics on the number of cases and fatalities of each state. It gave the following figures:
In an otherwise most commendable editorial today, entitled “Bertindak segera elak demam denggi merebak”, calling on the Health Ministry to take immediate and effective actions against the dengue outbreak and not to trifle with the people’s lives, Beritia Harian still used incorrect data of 3,310 cases in Selangor and 26 deaths in the country when Sothinathan had mentioned 10,753 cases in Selangor alone and 53 deaths in the country.
In July, it was reported that 11 people were killed in the first six months of the year in the dengue outbreak. (Star 22.7.2002). Another 23 died in the dengue outbreak in July and August, bringing the total to 34 at the end of August. (NST 13.9.02). Since August, another 19 had died, bringing the death toll to 53. (Star 28.12.02).
As Health Minister, Chua must assume full responsibility for a most deplorable state of affairs in the Health Ministry in the handling of the dengue outbreak this year, as reflected by galloping increase in the number of cases and deaths this year, as well as the rampant misinformation about the gravity of the outbreak to prevent unnecessary and avoidable deaths. Chua has committed a major dereliction of duty as Health Minister and the only right, decent and honourable thing for him to do is to accept responsibility for the unnecessary deaths and reams of misinformation and tender his resignation as Health Minister.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman