Open Email to Chua Jui Meng - "How can you sleep peacefully at night when one unnecessary and avoidable death after another keep mounting without stop in the worst dengue epidemic raging unchecked in Malaysia for the past nine months?"

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Tuesday): I have today sent an open email to the Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng, asking him one simple question": "How can you sleep peacefully at night when one unnecessary and avoidable death after another keeps mounting without stop in the worst dengue epidemic raging unchecked in Malaysia for the past nine months?"

I have just been informed of a second dengue death in Selangor in February last month. The first case that came to my knowledge was the Indonesian domestic help, Suwendah Tasrip, 30, of No. 28, Lintang Luku, Klang who died at the Tengku Ampuan Rahimah General Hospital on Friday, 28th February 2003 at about 6 am after nine days of hospitalization for dengue.

The second case of dengue fatality in Selangor last month which has been reported to me was Moh Ah Tong, 77, housewife, of Kampung Sungai Ara, next to Bandar Utama, who died at the University Hospital Medical Centre on February 9. Moh came down with fever on February 5, was seen by private clinic twice, as her family took it as a bad flu. Her condition worsened, and she was sent to the University Hospital Medical Centre by an ambulance in the afternoon of Saturday, 8th February. Her family complained that it took about four to five hours before Moh was warded and they had to wait for the blood test results the following day, Feb. 9. Moh died on Sunday morning at about 2 a.m. Her family was later told that Moh's blood count was 7,000, way below the normal 150,000 and above.

Mok was "a picture of perfect health" before she was stricken by dengue and everyone including her family were totally shocked by her sudden death. This is a plaintive cry from one of Moh's sons: "I feel the government media blackout of the dengue statistics is a great disservice to us the public. If we were more educated or made aware of the epidemic, we could have gone earlier to the hospital and my mum could have been saved."

Chua must be held responsible for a double media blackout - firstly, blackout of the dengue epidemic for the past nine months, and in particular full and accurate information about dengue cases and fatalities; and secondly, continuing blackout of the current dengue epidemic by denying to the people timely information of dengue cases and fatalities occurring every day.

In the past three months, I had issued some 60 media statements and sent eleven emails to the Selangor Mentri Besar, Datuk Seri Mohammad Khir Toyo, on the worst dengue epidemic both in Malaysia and Selangor, trying to arouse in both the Health Ministry and the Selangor State Government the necessary sense of urgency to give it top priority and take effective anti-dengue measures to stop the long list of unnecessary and avoidable dengue deaths.

Unfortunately, my efforts had been all to no avail so far, as the Health Ministry and the Selangor State Government seemed to have both developed an increasingly higher threshold of tolerance and apathy to dengue deaths, to the extent that a death from dengue is regarded as an embarrassing statistic to be hidden from public knowledge instead of a human tragedy compounded by its totally unnecessary and avoidable character.

Chua and Khir Toyo may hope that I will give up out of despair at the futility of my almost daily monitoring and alarm-sounding of the worst dengue epidemic in the history of the nation and Selangor, but let me give them notice that I will neither rest nor surrender to their indifference and apathy and will keep up a constant watch on the dengue epidemic to minimize suffering, save human lives and demand higher government standards of public health care and responsibility - so long as the public co-operates with me by giving me the actual information of the dengue situation on the ground.

As the worst dengue epidemic is expected to rage on for the next three months, Chua and Khir Toyo must explain how many more unnecessary and avoidable deaths must occur before the dengue epidemic comes to a natural end?

In my brief encounter with Chua at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on February 22, where my first utterance to him was to protest against the failure of the Health Ministry to launch a nation-wide dengue epidemic alert to mobilize the full resources of radio and television to create awareness of the deadly dengue disease, all Chua could say was his remark of "a lot of work is being done on the ground" before hurrying away from me.

What was Chua referring to with his "a lot of work is being done on the ground" remark? Was he referring to more and more work on the ground to prepare for burial for the record number of dengue fatalities this time?

I had repeatedly said that there must have been over 100 dengue fatalities in the country last year, (when in the previous worst dengue epidemic in 1998 there were only 57 deaths), and that there could be as many as 20 dengue deaths for the first two months of January and February, 2003.

Why is Chua not prepared to prove me wrong by making public the actual number of dengue cases and dengue deaths last year as well as in January and February 2003?

I expect Chua to end his most disgraceful chapter in his whole tenure as Health Ministry in his mishandling of the dengue epidemic after the Cabinet tomorrow, or he should simply resign as Health Minister.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman