Five great blunders of Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng in his mishandling of the deadly viral epidemic crisis management which has killed 31 infants

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Friday):
I am surprised that 81 days after the first reported death from the deadly viral epidemic attack in Sarawak on April 14, at a time when the health authorities have not been able to identify the virus which caused 31 deaths, a MCA MP should be more interested in "playing politics" with the issue, by making baseless allegations against the DAPís efforts to get the Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng to understand the concerns and worries of parents and why he suffered such a serious public credibility problem in his handling of the viral epidemic management crisis.

The MCA Lumut MP, Dr. Yap Yit Thong today hit out at the DAP and myself with the following report in the Sun (July 4, 1997):

Although Dr. Yap Yit Thong is a medical practitioner, it is clear that he had made the statement more as a politician with an axe to grind than as a medical practitioner, who should regard a life lost in any epidemic as one too many.

Dr. Yap said that "those who are not doctors or experts in the field" should not make unnecessary suggestions about the deadly viral epidemic. Did Dr. Yap protest to the Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng, who is not a medical practitioner but a lawyer, when a month ago, the Minister imposed a clampdown on all press briefings by the medical officers and personnel in Sarawak about developments of the viral epidemic, reserving to himself the sole authority to call press conferences in Kuala Lumpur?

There is no doubt if the deadly viral epidemic had been handled professionally, as by Health Ministry director-general Tan Sri Abu Bakar Sulaiman, the various blunders made by the Health Minister would have been avoided and public confidence in the authorities would not have reached such an all-time low.

Tan Sri Abu Bakar, for instance, would never have made the blunder of announcing that the virus behind the deadly epidemic had been identified as Coxsackie Virus B when this had never been the case.

Did Dr. Yap discuss with Chua Jui Meng about the five great blunders the Health Minister committed in his mishandling of the deadly viral epidemic crisis management, namely:

1. The clampdown on all press briefings by the medical officers and personnel in Sarawak on the viral epidemic and reserving to himself the sole authority to call press conferences in Kuala Lumpur;

2. His announcement on June 9 that the deadly virus causing the deaths had been identified, namely Coxsackie Virus B, when this was not true as close to a month later, the identity of the deadly virus has not been established.

3. His series of insensitive statements which were cumulative blows destroying his public credibility and undermining public confidence in his handling of the viral epidemic crisis management, as his statement that the public should not be unduly alarmed "as actually very few die of viral myocarditis" when the death toll stood at 21; and his subsequent criticism of parents for not being sufficiently alarmed about the viral epidemic.

4. His failure to look after the morale of local experts by giving the public the impression that the foreign experts from Atlanta Control of Disease Centre have taken over the fight to identify the killer and control the epidemic, when foreign experts should work under the leadership of the local experts who have distinguished themselves by their dedication and hard work in the battle against the deadly virus.

5. His loss of interest in the viral epidemic when entering its third month and causing the death of 31 infants - after monopolising to himself all daily press announcements about the developments of the viral epidemic.

I must rebut the statement made by Dr. Yap as if I have become a drug salesman for Pleconaril and Selenase.

The 16 statements which I had issued on the deadly viral epidemic are all available on the Internet, and if Dr. Yap studies them, he would find that I had never been an advocate for the use of either Pleconaril and Selenase.

For instance, in my statement after visiting the Sibu General Hospital on 12th June 1997, I said:

It is clear from the above statement which is still available on the Internet that I had not advocated the use of either Pleconaril or Selenase, as the decision must be made by the medical experts and not by me, who is a layman.

If it is wrong to inquire as to whether the Health Minister had made full use of the offers of assistance the Health Ministry had received as a result of its SOS appeal on the Internet, then the Health Minister should be faulted for making the SOS appeal on the Internet in the first place.

I hope that MPs like Dr. Yap who has a professional medical background should help the Health Minister by restoring public credibility in his handling of the Health portforlio instead of making meaningless press statements.


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