Health Ministry has finally conceded after some 80 deaths that the country is facing worst dengue epidemic with 32,289 dengue cases last year as compared to 27,379 in 1998, the previous worst year on record

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Sunday): The Health Ministry has finally conceded after some 80 deaths that the country is facing the worst dengue epidemic when it admitted that there were 32,289 dengue cases as of 28th December last year (Sin Chew Daily) - in stark contrast to the last official statement by the Ministry of Health on the deadly dengue outbreak made by its parliamentary secretary, S. Sothinathan to AFP on 1st January 2003 that there were only 10,753 confirmed cases nationwide last year.

I find it unbelievable, however, that the Health Ministry is still maintaining the death toll of 57 as at 28th December last year. I said yesterday that there were at least 74 dengue deaths last year culled from the statements of various state government officials and mass media reports. In fact, I believe that the total number of dengue deaths countrywide last year could be as high as 80 or over, without including the five dengue deaths in the first two weeks of this year for three states, namely Ipoh (3), Pahang (1) and Kelantan (1).

The death toll of 57 countrywide are far short of the total death tally which have been given by the various state government health officials or state exco members responsible for health, and cast a most adverse reflection on the Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng, that at this late hour he is still trying to hide the facts about the deadly dengue epidemic from the people of Malaysia when one precious life after another is being lost.

It is tragic that in the worst dengue epidemic in the nation's history, the fight against the deadly virus infection had been hampered by the information and media blackout. - and before one could effectively fight the dengue epidemic, one had to fight the information and media blackout.

I do not see, for instance, why the 11 dengue deaths in the first six months of last year should balloon into some 80 dengue deaths last year and at least five this year if the World Health Organisation warning in July of a possible dengue pandemic had been given full heed and there had been a high-impact IEC or information, education and communication (including media) campaign, making full use of radio, television and the newspapers, to create nation-wide alert and awareness of the epidemic among medical practitioners and the general public.

2002 is not only a "black year" for public health in Malaysia, but also for the mass media in failing in play its role to check the dengue epidemic to save lives as there must be over 60 dengue deaths last year which were avoidable and could have been prevented if there had been a full nation-wide dengue alert.

When a full assessment is made about the role of the mass media in Malaysia, its failure to save scores of lives in the worst dengue epidemic in the nation's history in 2002 would make sad reading.

The latest reports on the dengue situation should be a warning to all that the dengue epidemic is still at its worst. New Straits Times yesterday reported that there had been more dengue cases in Kota Bharu than previously, with about 250 cases reported in the Kota Bharu district so far this year and the figure is increasing daily.

The single biggest responsibility of Chua Jui Meng, after allowing the dengue epidemic to get out of hand from 11 dengue deaths in the first six months of last year to some 80 deaths at the end of the year and at least another five deaths this year, is to bring the epidemic under control without any more deaths.

He should forget about the MCA Team A and Team B power struggle or other inter-Ministerial contest and just focus on creating the belated nation-wide alert about the worst dengue epidemic in the nation's history, starting by releasing real-time information and indicators about the dengue outbreak, such as weekly or even daily incidence data, case-fatality rates (CFR) for dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF), frequency and distribution of dengue and DHF cases by age, gender, ethnicity and location; number of deaths - on a state-by-state and week-by-week basis.

For this reason, Chua should seek leave from the Cabinet on Wednesday to attend the all-party/professional groups/civic organizations/NGOs/mass media roundtable conference on the dengue epidemic which the DAP has convened at the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall, Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, 22nd January 2003 at 11 a.m. A special invitation to the Minister to attend the round-table conferernce will be sent tomorrow.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman