DAP to lodge second report with Suhakam on Friday (Feb.7) on additional human rights violations arising from the worst dengue epidemic raging unchecked killing more and more people, including the right to information and press freedom

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): Two days ago, together with other DAP leaders and Members of Parliament, I lodged an official report and complaint with Suhakam in Kuala Lumpur against the Health Ministry for its flagrant, rampant and continuing violation of the most basic of all human rights - the right to life - as a result of its mishandling of the worst dengue epidemic in the nation's history which could have caused some one hundred dengue deaths and may claim another 100 lives before the end of the epidemic.

At the time, I told the Suhakam Commissioner Tan Sri Harun Hashim who represented Suhakam to receive its first complaint about the violation of the "mother of all human rights" - the right to life - that DAP would be lodging another report on other aspects of human rights violations in the mishandling of the worst dengue epidemic in the nation's history, including the right to information and press freedom.

I will lodge this second report with Suhakam on Friday, Feb. 7, 2003 and will spend the Chinese New Year preparing the report on the second set of serious human rights violations in the worst dengue epidemic in the nation's history which does not seem to have even reached its peak although it could have already killed over a hundred lives.

In my first report to Suhakam two days ago, I said firstly, that the total death toll from the dengue epidemic countrywide last year could be in three digits or in the region of a hundred deaths; and secondly, that there were at least ten dengue deaths, with four cases in Ipoh, one case each in Kuantan and Kota Bahru, one case in Port Dickson and four cases in Kuala Lumpur in the first 23 days of January.

The figure of the number of death toll from dengue for the first 23 days of this year must now be revised upwards to at least 12 cases - following the revelation of two deaths in Johore state in the first 18 days of the year.

The Johore State Local Government Committee Chairman, Datuk Jimmy Low Boon Hong has disclosed that there were two dengue deaths in the state in the first 18 days of the year and that for last year, there were 20 reported deaths from dengue. (New Straits Times 28.1.2003)

All these 20 dengue deaths in Johore last year occurred in the second half of the year, averaging more than three deaths a month - after the WHO warning in July of a possible dengue pandemic in the region on the scale of the worst recorded dengue year of 1998 when there were 27,379 dengue cases and 58 deaths in Malaysia.
Low said Johore state recorded 628 dengue cases up to January 18 as compared to 2,249 cases last year and 1,600 cases in 2000. This is a most shocking statistic, as at the rate of 628 cases in 18 days, Johore would register 12,420 cases for the whole of this year - which would be six times the number of dengue cases reported for Johore last year! This can only mean that the dengue epidemic, though the worst in the nation's history, has yet to pass its peak!

The second report to Suhakam would address the violations to the human rights to information and press freedom to inform the people about the worst dengue epidemic in order to save lives and to bring the epidemic under control through a full nation-wide alert and awareness campaign, giving an assessment as to how each media, printed and electronic, from all language editions, had fared since the WHO warning of a dengue epidemic in Malaysia last July.

If the Deputy Information Minister, Datuk Zainuddin Maidin could use RTM television channels to broadcast propaganda attacks against the Opposition and critics of the government, there can be no reason or excuse why radio and television had not been harnessed in the past few months to warn the people about the lethal menace of the aedes mosquitoes especially when there is no vaccine against the disease and the only effective way to fight it is to eliminate the aedes mosquito population.

The media blackout of information about the worst dengue epidemic to alert the people about the life-and-death battle with the aedes mosquitoes is evident from the blackout of my reply yesterday to the outrageous response of the Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng to me but who never disputed or questioned my figures, assumptions and arguments.

All that Chua wanted to say was to claim that the Health Ministry need not take responsibility for the worst dengue epidemic in Malaysia, although he did it in the most offensive manner possible when he talked about "some political parties are like vultures hovering over diseases".

My difference with Chua is that I am trying to save lives and prevent any more unnecessary and avoidable death in the dengue epidemic, while the Health Minister is only interested in hiding the dengue cases and deaths from the Malaysian public.

A check of the records would show that when the incidence of dengue is low, Chua had no hesitation in claiming credit; but when there is a dengue epidemic as the present one raging out of control with ever-rising death toll, Chua would wash his hands in trying to disclaim responsibility.

For instance, in April 2000, Chua announced that the number of dengue and dengue haemorrhagic cases in the country decreased by 62.3 per cent the previous year (1999) from 27,381 in 1998 to 9,947 cases - the biggest drop in 10 years - which also saw a drop in the number of deaths from 58 in 1998 to 27 in 1999. Chua attributed the success to the government's cleanliness and anti-mosquito campaign. (Utusan 14.4.2000)

But when the worst dengue epidemic hit Malaysia after the WHO warning last July, Chua refused to assume responsibility, denying Malaysians the most important and critical information about the incidence of dengue cases and deaths although all medical practitioners and laboratories are required by law to notify him of any suspected dengue case, claiming that dengue cases do not come under the Health Ministry's jurisdiction!

This is of course not the first time that Chua had been involved in press blackouts to withhold critical "life-and-death" information to the public - his last infamous case was the gag order in early 1999 preventing the press from reporting on the outbreak of what was then thought to be Japanese encephalitis (JE) but later proved to be even more deadly Nipah virus. If this outbreak had been fully reported right from the beginning, the tragedy of over 100 lives lost in the Nipah virus epidemic and the unnecessary ruin of the RM2.4 billion pig-rearing industry in the country could have been avoided.

I must ask Chua why he had not learnt from the expensive lesson in terms of cost of human suffering, loss of human lives and damage to the economy caused by the 1999 Nipah virus epidemic that he is again repeating the same mistake of gagging the media in the current worst dengue epidemic in the country?

He should look around and learn how seriously other countries take a dengue outbreak. For instance, Brazil declared aedes mosquitoes as the Public Enemy No. One in March last year when at least 20 lives were lost in one of the worst outbreaks of dengue fever in the country in recent years, and the Brazilian government mobilized more than 1,000 army troops and thousands of health workers to smoke out the disease-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito.

If Chua is reluctant to declare the Aedes aegypti mosquito as the Public Enemy No. One and declare a dengue epidemic after the loss of some one hundred lives, with the dengue epidemic still at its peak, then Chua should not jeopardize any more human life and vacate his post as Health Minister in favour of someone who does not treat the lives of other Malaysians so cheaply.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman