Call on Mahathir to end the alarming rise of dengue deaths by halting the tussle between two Ministries and their Ministers not over turf and territorial aggrandizement but to avoid responsibility for the anti-dengue campaign and fatalities

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang, Sunday): The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad should end the alarming rise of dengue deaths, which have risen to at least 54 fatalities in the final lap of last year or four short of the worst dengue year for the country in 1998 which killed the record number of 58 people, with at least two new dengue deaths on the first day of 2003. No one knows however what was the final death toll from the dengue outbreak for the whole of last year as such information is still protected under the Official Secrets Act.

The first thing Mahathir should do is to halt the tussle between two Ministries and their Ministers not over turf and territorial aggrandizement but to avoid responsibility for the anti-dengue campaign and fatalities.

The Minister for Housing and Local Government, Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting told Mingguan Malaysia today that although the anti-dengue campaign was not fully placed on the shoulders of the Ministry for Local Government, his Ministry was prepared "voluntarily" to make a success of the campaign.

Although Ong gave the impression that his Ministry was most charitable and benevolent, acting like a "good Samaritan", to volunteer help in the anti-dengue campaign when it was not its primary responsibility, this was not what the Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng said in Johore Bahru on 13th December 2002 - where Chua made it very clear that it was the Ministry for Housing and Local Government which was more responsible for the dengue outbreak.

Chua even revealed that the Cabinet recently instructed the Housing and Local Government Ministry "to take all the primary prevention efforts" as 72 per cent of dengue cases occurred in areas under the jurisdiction of local authorities while only 28 per cent of the dengue-affected areas were under the responsibility of the Health Ministry or outside the jurisdiction of the local authorities.

While Ong and Chua shadow-box as to which Ministry has the primary responsibility for the anti-dengue campaign, Malaysians to the tune of at least 54 lives last year and two children who died on New Year's Day became the victims of the dengue outbreak and the inter-Ministerial warfare.

This is most irresponsible and inexcusable especially as the World Health Organisation last July had issued a grim warning to all governments in the region about the virulent dengue outbreak and the urgent need for effective counter-measures to reduce the expected high incidence of the disease and to save human lives.

At the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday at the latest, Mahathir should appoint a Cabinet Committee headed by a senior Cabinet Minister who could knock the heads of the two quarrelling Ministers together and end the disgraceful squabble between the two Ministries and revamp the entire anti-dengue campaign before more lives are lost this year.

The Cabinet meeting on Wednesday should also direct the immediate release of all data about the dengue outbreak last year to the public, with a month-by-month and state-by-state breakdown of the number of cases and fatalities, as well as their incidence according to locality, age, gender and ethnicity.

I understand that there are four distinct but closely related viruses that cause dengue. Recovery from infection by one provides lifelong immunity against that serotype but confers only partial and transient protection against subsequent infection by the other three. There is good evidence that sequential infection increases the risk of more serious disease resulting in dengue haemorrhage fever (DHF).

During epidemics of dengue, attack rates among susceptibles are often 40-50%, but may reach 80-90%. Without proper treatment, DHF case fatality rates can exceed 20%. With modern intensive supportive therapy, such rates can be reduced to less than 1%.

Malaysians are entitled to know where Malaysia stands, as far as the dengue outbreak last year, in the band of DHF case fatality rates between less than 1% and over 20%.

The silence of the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) on the dengue outbreak has continued for so long that it has become a scandal, and MMA officials should make their voice heard on this important public health issue before they themselves come under the public scrutiny. 


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman