Health and Education Ministries should not be stubborn and reconsider and declare emergency holidays for Std. I, II and II classes in the affected schools in Sibu, Kuching and Miri for the whole of next week as a result of the suspected Coxsackie Virus B outbreak which had claimed another victim, totalling 24 infant deaths


Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Friday):
I call on the Health and Educaton Ministries not to be stubborn and to reconsider and declare emergency holidays for Std. I, II and III classes in the affected schools in Sibu, Kuching and Miri for the whole of next week as a result of the suspected Coxsackie Virus B outbreak which had claimed another victim, totally 24 infant deaths.

As of yesterday, there were 136 cases still warded for the infection with three cases, one each in Sibu, Kuching and Miri, in serious condition.

What is the use of the Federal Cabinet deciding on Wednesday not to declare emergency holidays in the affected areas when very few pupils turn up in any event for school for the Std. I to III standards, making it impossible for classes to be conducted.

By declaring school holidays for the affected areas for the whole of next week, both the Health and Education Ministries will be sending out a most refreshing signal to the parents for the first time in the two-month deadly viral outbreak - that the authorities are prepared to look at the epidemic from the eyes of the parents and not just from the bureaucratic angle.

This is one chief cause why the authorities, through various mishandling of the viral outbreak, particularly in the area of public relations, had forfeited public confidence making the people of Sarawak prey to many rumours and speculations.

For instance, how can the health authorities and the Sarawak State Government leaders tell the people that the deadly viral epidemic is under control when there is a daily increase in the number of infant deaths?

The Health Minister also lost a lot of credibility when he kept insisting that the public should not be unduly alarmed "as actually very few die of viral myocarditis", with the toll now at 24 deaths when one death is one too many!

Why did Chua Jui Meng announce on Monday that the Health Ministry had confirmed that the killer viral outbreak in Sarawak is caused by a virulent strain of Coxsackie Virus B when there is no such definitive identification?

The latest faux pax by the Health Minister in a long list of unnecessary blunders is his announcement on Monday that the Health Ministry had confirmed that the killer viral outbreak in Sarawak is caused by a virulent strain of the Coxsackie virus B, which had been refuted yesterday by Unimas’ Institute of Health and Community Health Prof Jane Cardosa as well as by the experts from the Atlanta Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Prof. Cardosa said that extensive tests by the university’s team so far showed the victims were infected by Coxsackie virus with the possibility of other virus as well.

She said: "The level of antibodies from these victims indicated Coxsackie B virus but I cannot conclusively say it is Coxsackie B virus only."

The Atlanta Centres for Disease Control and Prevention have also not been able to confirm that the agent for the viral outbreak is the Coxsackie Virus B, only that it is an enterovirus.

These have confirmed my press conference statement after my visit to Sibu General Hospital yesterday morning that the definitive cause of the deadly viral outbreak in Sarawak had not been established, and nobody really knows whether the culprit is Coxsackie B virus or some other virus.

This must be the first time where the announcement by a Health Minister that his Ministry had found the cause of a virulent viral outbreak was overturned in a matter of days and should be a reminder to the Health Minister that he should leave it to the professionals and medical experts to fight the viral epidemic rather than imposing himself on them.

Can Chua Jui Meng explain why he had announced on Monday in Kuala Lumpur that the Health Ministry had confirmed that the killer viral outbreak in Sarawak is caused by a virulent strain of Coxsackie Virus B when there is no such definitive identification, casting a bad reflection on the professionalism and expertise of Malaysian medical experts? This is also why his decision to impose a clampdown on the medical officers from briefing the press and the public about the latest developments on the viral outbreak in Sibu, Kuching and Miri, reserving to himself the monopoly to hold a press conference from Kuala Lumpur, is so counter-productive in eroding public confidence in the management of the epidemic.

The Health Minister should give full support to the professionals and experts to fight the viral epidemic but he should not intrude into the crisis management to the extent of becoming a hindance and a major cause of loss of public confidence, as has now happened.

(13/6/97)


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