DAP calls for Cabinet Committee on Dengue Epidemic under the chairmanship of Abdullah before Malaysia loses additional scores of lives as Chua Jui Meng's short comment yesterday disclaiming responsibility is more damning than his long silence on the worst dengue epidemic in the nation's history

Media Conference Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang, Tuesday): The Health Minister Datuk Chua Jui Meng's short comment yesterday disclaiming responsibility is more damning than his long silence in the worst dengue epidemic in the nation's history and raises the frightening spectre that scores of innocent Malaysian lives will be lost before the dengue epidemic fully runs its course in the next several months.

In his comment yesterday, Chua did not dispute my figures, assumptions and arguments which I had made in my 25 media statements on the dengue epidemic in the past 43 days, such as:

  • That Malaysia is facing the worst dengue epidemic in history, even worse than 1998 the previous worst year for dengue which reported 27, 379 cases and 58 deaths, as there were at least 32,289 and 57 deaths as of December 28 last year;

  • That the death toll of 57 from dengue last year fall 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, as well as mass media reports and anecdotal accounts of actual deaths, and that the actual total death tally countrywide last year could be as high as three digits or in the region of a hundred fatalities.

  • That the worst dengue epidemic in the nation's history is still raging unchecked, continuing to claim lives, with at least ten dengue deaths in the first 25 days of the year which could only be a fraction of a larger death toll countrywide - and the dengue epidemic could rage on for several more months, causing scores or even a century of additional deaths from the deadly dengue virus.

  • That after the World Health Organisation (WHO) warning last July of a possible dengue pandemic in the region as bad as 1998, Singapore succeeded in curbing the menace and bringing the dengue situation under control by the end of November while in Malaysia the dengue epidemic is still raging on killing lives and denying the victims the most basic and fundamental of all human rights, or "the mother of all human rights" - the right to life.

  • That Malaysia had violated the Seventh Malaysia Plan target and the WHO international standard of "not more than 1%" for dengue haemorrhagic fever (DHF) case fatality rate (CFR), as Chua said recently that the DHF case fatality rate for Malaysia last year was 10%, much better when compared to other developing countries where the DHF CFR was as high as 50% with some countries reaching 70%. (Sin Chew 10.1.03)

Chua did not deny or dispute my figures, assumptions and arguments but only that I had directed at the "wrong target" or as Nanyang Siang Pau headlined his comment: "No Need for Health Ministry to Bear Responsibility" for the worst dengue epidemic in the nation's history.

Chua's denial of responsibility is the most astounding and incredible Ministerial disclaimer in the nation's 45-year history of Cabinet government and Ministerial responsibility. He is probably the first Health Minister in the world to claim that his Ministry is not responsible at all for a deadly disease epidemic in the country, which is continuing to claim human lives while another country, threatened by a similar disease in the region, had successfully brought it under control within five months!

Is Chua seriously suggesting that he could and would go to the annual World Health Assembly in Geneva in May, which is attended by delegations of the 192 WHO member states, and tell WHO that in the country's worst and prolonged dengue epidemic in the nation's history despite the WHO warning last July, losing over a hundred lives, he as Health Minister of Malaysia is not responsible at all for the tragedy of the long list of unnecessary and avoidable deaths?

WHO had often announced in its various publications that it is "collaborating with the Ministry of Health" in Malaysia to reduce the incidence rates of dengue fever and dengue haemorrhagic fever, reduce the fatality rate of dengue haemorrhagic fever to less than 1%, to ensure useful dengue surveillance and "to detect dengue epidemics early and intervene by rapid and effective larval control and other measures", etc. Will Chua be telling the World Health Assembly in Geneva in May that WHO had all along been collaborating with the wrong Ministry in Malaysia in the fight against dengue - and that it is not he, as Health Minister, but another Cabinet Minister who should be representing Malaysia in the annual WHO conference in Geneva?

If Chua claims that the Health Ministry is not responsible for the long and lengthening list of unnecessary and avoidable dengue deaths in the current epidemic, is he suggesting that it is another Ministry which must be held responsible - which could only be the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and its Minister, Datuk Ong Ka Ting?

Is Chua aware that the people are sick and tired of Ministers "passing the buck" to escape both individual and collective Ministerial responsibility, at the cost of human lives with one life after another being lost - as illustrated by his brazen denial of responsibility for the breakdown of the health system in the country? Recently, there was a report on public complaints about the laziness of government servants but it would appear that the first problem to tackle is the laziness and irresponsibility syndrome of Cabinet Ministers!

The dengue deaths cannot be allowed to continue and the worst dengue epidemic in the nation's history cannot be allowed to rage on unchecked.

This is the least that the Cabinet at its meeting tomorrow must decide, together with the establishment of a Cabinet Committee under the chairmanship of the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to spearhead the war against dengue and aedes mosquitoes and save lives by ending the bickering between the Health Ministry and the Housing and Local Government Ministry to avoid responsibility for the dengue outbreak and the unprecedented spate of deaths!

For a start, the Cabinet Committee should Immediately release to the public all data about the dengue epidemic last year and this 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 as a first step to develop a high-impact nation-wide alert and awareness of the lethal dengue menace in the country.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman