Who are in real charge of the fight against viral outbreak - local experts or experts from the Atlanta Centre for Disease Control and Prevention


Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Thursday):
The press today reported the announcement by Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister, Datuk Dr. George Chan Hong Nam that three new experts from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta have arrived early this week "to help contain the Coxsackie B viral outbreak which has killed 31 children so far" - which is most misleading, as the viral agent behind the outbreak has not been identified yet. The three are paediatrician Dr. Linda Han and toxicologists Dr. Joel Selanikio and Dr. Joel McCullough - in addition to two epidemoligists Jim Alexander and Omesh Dutta Parashar who had arrived more than three weeks ago.

Although the CDC is reputed to have the best technology in the world for disease control and prevention, it seems to be equally stumped as local experts by the viral outbreak in Sarawak which had killed 31, and although loosely referred to as coxsackie virus B, its real identity is still unknown.

However, three questions persist in the public mind, first, whether the Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng has lost interest in the viral epidemic in Sarawak and had ceded the monopoly control of the crisis management to Datuk Dr. George Chan; secondly, why the three experts from Atlanta CDC came so late when they should have been in Sarawak at the height of the epidemic early last month; and thirdly, who are in real charge in the fight against the viral outbreak, the local experts or the Atlanta CDC experts.

The third question is particularly nagging, as Malaysians have been told that our local experts, whether virologist or epidemilogist, in tropical diseases are among the best in the world.

The grave problem of loss of public confidence in the authorities’ public relations management of the viral epidemic crisis is obvious from the latest update on the University of Nebraska Medical Centre (UNMC) website, the only website in the world to closely monitor the deadly viral epidemic in Sarawak.

The latest UNMC update states:

It is most unfortunate that two-and-a-half months after the first death from the deadly viral outbreak on April 14, misleading information about the viral infection continue to be carried in the mass media, both printed and electronic, which is a sad reflection of the utter failure in the Health Ministry’s crisis management in the important area of public relations and education.

What is even more unfortunate is that the Health Minister is not prepared to admit that the entire public relations exercise in the viral epidemic crisis management had been one greater disaster from the beginning.

(3/7/97)


*Lim Kit Siang - Malaysian Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Democratic Action Party Secretary-General & Member of Parliament for Tanjong