Final email appeal to Mahathir to stop the avoidable deaths from the worst dengue epidemic in the nation's history, claiming more than 72 lives last year, with the urban Malays the most susceptible population group in the epidemic

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): I have today sent a final email appeal to the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad that the government launch a high-impact multi-prong campaign to create nation-wide alert among Malaysians of the worst dengue epidemic in the nation's history to save lives, particularly Malays in urban areas who belong to the most susceptible population group in the epidemic. The dengue epidemic had claimed more than 72 lives last year.

Last Tuesday, I sent an urgent email to Mahathir making four proposals for the government to urgently tackle the worst dengue epidemic in the nation's history - worse than the dengue epidemic in 1998 which reported 27,379 dengue cases and 58 deaths countrywide.

I had proposed that the government declare a dengue epidemic and nation-wide dengue alert; the establishment of a Cabinet Committee under the chairmanship of Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to spearhead the war against dengue and aedes mosquitoes; and the immediate release to the public of all data about the dengue outbreak last year, with a month-by-month and state-by state breakdown of the number of dengue cases and fatalities, as well as their incidence according to locality, age, gender and ethnicity.

None of my four proposals had been acted upon and I do not know whether Mahathir had received my email as there was neither a reply nor acknowledgement.

All that Mahathir had done in the past week was to comment on the dengue situation when he was in Kampar on Sunday for the ground-breaking ceremony for the Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (Utar), saying that the government should not be blamed for the dengue outbreak as "the government cannot prevent the people from getting some disease or other".

He said the government had played its role in advising the people to be more responsible and not allow water to remain stagnant in containers. He said public awareness on dengue was important and urged the Press to help educate the people.

I never said that the government should be blamed whenever a person is bitten by an aedes mosquito infected with the deadly dengue virus, but the government cannot escape responsibility for failing to launch a high-impact media campaign to create nation-wide awareness of the worst dengue epidemic in the nation's history particularly in the population group most vulnerable in the epidemic, both from the high incidence of dengue cases and fatalities - the urban Malays.

The press had also been denied regular information by the Health Ministry to impress upon Malaysians the gravity of the worst dengue epidemic outbreak in the nation's history, in particular about the alarming increase in the number of dengue cases from 1,696 dengue cases and seven dengue deaths in the first three months of last year (Dewan Negara 18.4.2002 - question time) to over 30,000 cases and over 72 deaths for the whole year!

The Health Ministry had also ignored the July warning of the World Health Organisarion (WHO) when it said: "This year is looking a bit like 1998 when we had a pandemic. It's a very worrying picture".

If the authorities had heeded and acted on the WHO warning in July, then most of the over 60 deaths which occurred in the second half of the year could have been avoided as dengue had only claimed 11 lives in the first six months of last year.

In fact, it was only last Thursday that the Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng was still talking about the current dengue outbreak being endemic, as if like ordinary years such as 1995 when there were 6,543 cases and 28 deaths, denying that it had reached epidemic proportion, when WHO had warned as far back as last July that it could be worse than an epidemic as to be described a pandemic!

What is most deplorable is that the Health Ministry had refused to release regular updates of the official figures of dengue cases and fatalities for the country as well as a state-by-state breakdown to educate the public about the lethal dengue epidemic, and these figures have to be culled from various announcements by different officials in the media - giving a partial but not a full and total picture of the epidemic.

I said in my media statement dated 9th January 2003 that there were over 30,000 dengue cases and over 66 dengue deaths last year based on the following random information:

  • Firstly, the state-by-state data on dengue cases and fatalities given by the Selangor exco member in charge of health, Datuk Tang See Hang on 6th January 2003 on the dengue epidemic country-wide last year until Dec. 14, totaling 29,615 cases and 53 deaths;

  • Secondly, four dengue deaths in Kuala Lumpur and Negeri Sembilan which had been reported in the media earlier in the second half of last year but which had not been included in Tang's data.

  • Thirdly, five additional deaths in Johore and another four in Selangor in the last 17 days of last year conceded by state officials early this month.

  • Fourthly, incomplete information for all the other states.

To my shock, my attention has just been drawn to a New Straits Times report dated 4.1.2003 where the Pahang State Youth, Sports and Health Exco member, Datuk Dr. Ahmad Shukri Ismail cited 1,299 dengue cases and six dengue deaths in Pahang for last year (Tang's figures for Pahang as of 14.12.2002 were 860 cases and no deaths), bringing the total death toll from dengue country-wide last year to over 72, as Pahang had never been associated with a single dengue death for last year in any published report.

Although the 48-hour ultimatum to the Health Minister Datuk Chua Jui Meng to declare a dengue epidemic and launch a high-impact anti-dengue counter strategy had expired last Saturday, DAP had held back from convening an all party/NGOs/mass media meeting to launch a multi-prong campaign to create nation-wide alert of the worst dengue epidemic in the nation's history among Malaysians particularly urban Malays.

This is because such a campaign can only be most effective if it is government-led, deploying all the resources of the state and mobilizing the support of the civil society and all sectors of the population.

It is for this reason why I am making a final appeal to the Prime Minister to launch such a government-led anti-dengue campaign to save lives, especially urban Malays as the most susceptible population group in the epidemic.

If the final email appeal to Mahathir again falls on deaf ears, and there is no response in the next 24 hours, then DAP will have no choice but to try to do what the government is duty-bound but has refused to do and convene an all party/NGOs/mass media meeting on Sunday to formulate an anti-dengue strategy and launch a high-impact multi-prong campaign to save lives, particularly urban Malays, in the lethal dengue epidemic.

Notice for such a meeting on Sunday would be sent out tomorrow if the government continues to maintain total silence, inattention and inaction in the face of the worst dengue epidemic in the nation's history.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman