The media are full of news of SARS. As the Government agrees to transparency of reportage, print and broadcast media and Internet are replete with this type of news. Some are relatively accurate and others are given to imaginations

 DAP 37th Anniversary Dinner
by Tan Seng Giaw

(Kuala Lumpur, Monday): Ninety to 96 % of patients with SARS recover completely. Only 4 to 10% may be serious.

 Yesterday, the deputy director-general of health Datuk Dr Ismail Merican said that the World Health Organization (WHO) had accepted Malaysian suggestion to reclassify SARS areas into low, medium and high risks: Mongolia low; Singapore, Taiwan and Toronto medium and Beijing, Guangdong, Hong Kong and Shanxi high. If this helps to clarify matter, then by all means.

 On the same day, the Health Minister emphasized that SARS had been contained as the health authorities were swift in applying the same standard operating procedures (SOPs) used to contain the Nippah virus outbreak in 1999. We hope that SOPs are effective in protecting the people.

 In 1999, we asked the minister in Parliament whether the virus was brought in by horses imported from Hendra, Australia? Or, was it flying-fox that carried the virus to Tambun, Ipoh, Perak? The first case of Nippah death was at the Ipoh General Hospital. The Perak Menteri Besar pointed out that infected pigs were allowed to be transported to Negeri Sembilan. The Health Ministry did not answer, resorting to vague replies. Last year, the Veterinary Department (under the Agriculture Ministry) admitted that flying-foxes brought Nippah virus to Tambun. Why did the Government allow rapacious traders to move infected pigs from Tambun to Nippah?

 In fact, there were various stages to the Nippah outbreak. We wish the minister would not repeat the mistakes in the first stage: fruit-eating flying-foxes escaped from forest fires to Tambun where there are pig farms and  stud farm, surrounded by fruit orchards such as guava. These flying-foxes fed on guava. The pigs ate the half-eaten guava that conveyed the virus. Farm workers picked up the virus from pigs. (Horses from Hendra might have virus of that name which is similar to Nippah virus.)

 Unscrupulous farmers sold infected pigs cheaply at auctions. These pigs were transported to Negeri Sembilan, infecting people in places such as Nippah and destroyed the pig farming industry. Our experts collected human samples from Nippah and identified the virus and hence the name. If these samples had been collected from Tambun, the virus would have been named after that place.

 The second stage of the Nippah outbreak was the decision by the ministry to spend millions to buy Japanese Encephalitis (JE) vaccine. People had the vaccine and the false sense of security. These expensive vaccines are kept in government stores. Why did the ministry make the decision?

 The third and fourth stages of the Nippah outbreak were more meaningful. Our experts identified the virus and the ministry instituted total isolation procedures (SOPS) such as shutting down pig farms.

 Although we did not know about Nippah virus, we believe that the virus should have been contained at Tambun and should not have spread to other states. Thus, we advise the minister against repeating the first two stages of the Nippah disaster.

 The Government isolates suspected SARS patients according to the definitions of WHO. We have heard that some patients resist this, causing havoc on isolation wards. On 3 May, 2003, the Acting Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Abdullah advised patients against leaving isolation rooms.

 We must take strict measures to isolate suspected individuals and to scrutinize all people from SARS countries at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, the Johor Causeway and other entry points. They must not transmit the virus to Malaysians.


* Dr Tan Seng Giaw, DAP National Vice-Chairman and MP for Kepong