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):
"Ipoh, Thurs: An opposition partyís suggestion in its homepage on the Internet that two drugs, Pleconaril and Selenase, be tried to treat the disease that causes viral myocarditis has no basis.
"Lumut MP Dr. Yap Yit Thong, a private medical practitioner, said in a statement here today that Selenium can be very toxic to the sick while Pleconaril is only an experimental drug.
"Yap said the public must be made aware that the two drugs are not used by the Health Ministry in the treatment of the viral infection as they are of dubious value.
"As such, Yap said, the opposition party should not capitalise on human misery to gain political mileage.
"Those who are not doctors or experts in the field should not make unnecessary suggestions about treatment".
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:
"A week ago, the Health Minister announced that the government had sent SOS on the Internet by posting a bulletin seeking help on the outbreak. I will like to know whether the Health Ministry had made full use of the responses, advice and offers of assistance which had been given in response to this Internet appeal by the Health Ministry.
"I understand that Dr. Will Taylor, Associate Professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Georgia had suggested that there are two drugs which might help in fighting the viral outbreak. One is Pleconaril made in the United States while the other is Selenase manufactured in Germany.
"Dr. Will Taylor had also contacted Dr. Jian-Chu Hou, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences in Beijing, who is prepared to share his expertise in regard to the use of selenium versus an acutely lethal viral infection. Dr. Hou has considerable experience in regard to dose and toxicity issues in treating CVB myocarditis with selenium, and he could also help to get in touch with other Chinese scientists and clinicians.
"Dr. Will Taylor had also offered on 6th June to contact the German manufacturer of the drug Selenase to ask them to donate and immediately ship the drug to Sarawak, provided this was needed by the Malaysian medical authorities. However, up to now, the Malaysian medical authorities have not indicated that they want the Selenase drug shipment.
"The people of Sarawak and Malaysia are entitled to know from the Health Minister whether the government had made full use of the offers of assistance as a result of the Health Ministryís SOS appeal on the Internet."
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.