DAP commends UMNO Youth and calls on youth organizations of all political parties, whether the ruling coalition or the Opposition, to take an united stand in the national interest to demand an immediate halt and full accountability for the over 40 dengue deaths in the past six months despite WHO warning last July
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Friday): DAP commends UMNO Youth for calling on the Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng and the Minister for Housing and Local Government, Datuk Ong Ka Ting to reduce their involvement in the internal MCA power struggle and concentrate on their Ministerial duties and the people’s interests, in particular to bring under control the virulent dengue outbreak which had claimed the lives of over 40 people in the past six months.
Utusan Malaysia in a front-page report today, headlined “Pemuda gesa Chua, Ong tumpu isu denggi”, states:
This is the first positive and constructive statement by Abdul Aziz as UMNO Youth deputy leader, and I call on youth organizations of all political parties, whether the ruling coalition or the Opposition, to take an united stand in the national interest to demand an immediate halt and full accountability for the over 40 dengue fatalities in the past six months despite the July warning of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The campaign which the DAP has been waging for the past month to demand an effective anti-dengue strategy and an end to the campaign of misinformation about the incidence of dengue cases and fatalities lulling Malaysians into complacency about the lethal outbreak is not a political one but a national issue affecting the people’s welfare and human lives, regardless of race, religion, locality or political affiliation.
This was why I had announced yesterday that the DAP was sending a memorandum to the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad calling for the suspension of Chua as Minister for Health and Ong as Minister for Housing and Local Government for their failure to heed the WHO warning in July to take effective anti-dengue measures, resulting in the loss of over 40 lives in the past six months, as well as for the campaign of misinformation about the incidence of dengue cases and fatalities.
I hope that the youth wings of other Barisan Nasional component parties, whether MCA Youth (A or B), Gerakan Youth or MIC Youth, could take a leaf from UMNO Youth to adopt a clear public stand on the unnecessary and avoidable loss of scores of human lives in the current dengue outbreak.
It would be ideal if the youth organizations of all political parties, whether the ruling coalition or the Opposition, could convene a round-table conference to demand an immediate halt and full accountability for the over 40 dengue deaths in the past six months to show Malaysians that whatever their political differences, they could act in unison for the common interest and welfare of the people.
Malaysians are still waiting for a full explanation from Chua and Ong as to how they could allow the dengue outbreak to get so out of hand that the 11 dengue deaths in the first six months of last year spiralled to 54 deaths by the end of the year (which is not the final figure as of Dec. 31 of the year) – or an increase of at least 43 fatalities in the past six months despite the severe warning on dengue fever by WHO last July.
In issuing the dengue warning from Geneva last July, the WHO disease-control specialist Dr. Mike Nathan said: “Countries declare a state of emergency when the disease is upon them, but that’s really too late. In most affected countries, lots of money get thrown at an epidemic, but not in the intervening period.”
Malaysia seems to be in a special category of its own, when an epidemic is denied although there had been at least 54 deaths last year or four short of the worst dengue year in 1998 which claimed 58 lives, when a full epidemic was declared.
This is why the statement by the parliamentary secretary to the Ministry of Health, S. Solinathan on Monday that there was nothing to worry as the dengue outbreak has not reached an epidemic although 54 people had died was so irresponsible, shocking and outrageous raising questions about his fitness to hold his present office.
Can Chua publicly explain how many more people must die from the current dengue outbreak before the Health Ministry is prepared to declare a dengue epidemic?
Chua is fully mistaken if the reason for the campaign of misinformation to mislead Malaysians about the severity of the dengue outbreak is fear of frightening away foreign tourists, as in this era of information technology, foreign missions are better informed than Malaysians about the actual health situation (as well as other matters like the terrorist threat and media blackout) in the country.
The country brief on Malaysia issued by Trade New Zealand under the auspices of the New Zealand Trade Commisioner dated July 2002, for instance, has the following information about “health risks” in Malaysia –
“Dengue Fever Warning
“A number of Asian countries appear to be facing a dengue fever epidemic. Dhaka (Bangadesh), Kaosiung (Taiwan), and Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) appear to be worst hit, but the disease is also prevalent in Indonesia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Vietnam.”
From these advisories, it is clear that foreigners knew as far back as last July that there was a dengue epidemic in the country, except for Malaysians, who are still told after at least 54 deaths last year that the dengue outbreak has not reached an epidemic!
DAP is preparing the memorandum to the Prime Minister calling for the suspension of Chua and Ong as Ministers for their negligence, irresponsibility, incompetence and mishandling of the virulent dengue outbreak despite the WHO warning last July, because we also want action to be taken against government officers who had either taken part in the campaign of misinformation or had failed to sufficiently impress on the public about the seriousness of the dengue outbreak.
For instance, the Selangor deputy health director (public health), Dr. Rahimah Mohd Ariffin was reported as saying that as of September 7, 2002, 5,189 dengue cases had been reported in the state of which 298 were dengue haemorrhagic fever (DHF) cases. (NST 13.9.2002).
However, more than three months later, Rahiman reported a very much lower rate of incidence of dengue outbreak in the state when he told the Berita Harian (28.12.2002) that as of 21st December 2002 , there were 3,310 dengue cases out of which 157 were DHF cases. What is the reason for this drastic drop of figures between 5,189 dengue cases as of Sept. 7 and 3,310 cases on December 21?
Johore provides another blatant example of mishandling of the dengue outbreak. There was no public report about dengue deaths in Johore from any official source for the whole year, until the shocking NST report yesterday of 20 deaths in the state for the whole year! Why wasn’t the people informed of the rising dengue fatalities in the state so that effective preventive action could have been taken to cut down the final death toll?
In January 2002, Johore Mentri Besar Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman had boasted about the success of the dengue control and prevention programme using the “Communication for Behavioural Impact” (Combi) approach, which is sanctioned by the WHO, in Johore Bahru the previous year, but in the dengue outbreak last year catapulting Johore to the top of the national chart with the highest fatality at 20, Johore Bahru tops the state as the worst aedes-infested area. Who should be held responsible for the 20 dengue deaths in Johore last year when there were only 12 deaths in the previous year?
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman