There is nothing more unfortunate for Malaysians than to be numbed to the mounting toll of infants in Sarawak as to become insensitive to the human tragedy each death causes to the family and the community.
Is it because the Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng is himself becoming numbed to or getting tired of the rising death toll that he did not make the announcement of the two latest deaths himself?
It is most surprising that the Health Minister did not have a single word to say about the two latest deaths - when he had himself imposed a mass media clampdown on all news about the viral outbreak and reserved to himself the sole monopoly right to hold a press conference daily in Kuala Lumpur to announce the latest substantive new developments!
Chua Jui Meng had been bungling from one public relations disaster to another in monopolising the management of the viral epidemic, which has claimed 29 lives.
He should seriously heed my advice to stay out of the day-to-day management of the viral epidemic, which should be left to the professionals and he should turn over the full management of the epidemic crisis to the Health Ministry director-general Tan Sri Abu Bakar Sulaiman.
Chua Jui Meng 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 hindrance and a major cause of loss of public confidence because of his yawning credibility gap.
Chua Jui Meng should also publicly apologise for his baseless allegation blaming the 27 viral deaths on the "tidak apa" attitude of parents as well as misleading parents that children above five years old could not become victims.
Two days ago, when announcing the 27th death from the viral epidemic, Chua Jui Meng "hit out at parents for their "tidak apa attitude" and blamed the 27 deaths on their parents by using the most heartless words, as reported in the Star yesterday:
"’The 27 died because they were brought in late for treatment,’ he said".
I had yesterday criticised Chua Jui Meng for being most unfair to blame the 27 deaths on the parents for their tidak apa attitude it has been reported that in many cases, the parents had brought their children to the attention of the medical authorities, whether private or public, at the first available opportunity - and still this could not save their lives.
I was however under the impression that the 27th victim, the 22-month Bidayuh boy who died at the Kuching Hospital on Sunday four hours after being admitted in a state of shock, was probably the result of the negligence of the parents for bringing him to the hospital when it was too late.
I have now found that the Health Minister had also been most unfair to the parents of the 27th victim, who had to suffer the social stigma of being irresponsible as alleged by the Minister after they have suffered the anguish of losing their loved one!
In actual fact, the 27th victim of the viral epidemic, Andyricson Lawrence, was taken to a private doctor by his mother, Karen ak James Katom on Friday and he was diagnosed as having a common fever.
This is a report in yesterday’s Sarawak Tribune (24th June 1997) on the tragedy of Andyricson Lawrence, the 27th victim of the deadly viral epidemic, under the heading: "He was a very healthy child, says grieving mother":
KUCHING - "He was crying loudly. A few minutes after he went into the hospital room, I didn’t hear him cry anymore ... There was total silence," said Catherina Anna Jino, whose one-year-ten-month old grandson, Andyricson Lawrence was the 27th victim of the Coxsackie B viral infection.
Andyricson was rushed to the Sarawak General Hospital here by his mother, Karen ak James Katom and Catherina to the Sarawak General Hospital here at around 5 pm on Sunday. Five hours later, he passed away. The doctor said he died of the inflammation of the heart.
Before that, there were no visible symptoms that the baby was infected with the disease. Andyricson took his daily meals with a hearty appetite. There were no blisters on his hands and ulcers on his mouth. The only symptom was a high fever.
"I brought him to a private doctor at Siburan on Friday and he was diagnosed as having only a common fever," said 24-year-old Karen. After that she informed her husband, Lawrence ak Jula, 23, a soldier now working at Sungai Petani, Kedah.
"The next day, my son appeared very weak and the fever did not subside. I was very worried and on Sunday, we decided to bring him to the hospital," she added.
Karen, who is due to deliver her second child any time now, is staying with her parents at Sungai Duuh, Siburan. She was not allowed to be at the side of Andyricson when he passed away. "The doctor advised me not to go in for fear of infection ... it is very sad that I couldn’t be with him," she said. "He was a very healthy child," she added with tears rolling down her cheeks.
She added that the husband had actually wanted to return home after knowing that his son was sick. Apparently, he was too late.
Lawrence was expected to arrive yesterday evening for the funeral today.
The grandmother, Catherina, said a postmortem had been conducted on the baby. "They haven’t told us the outcome yet," she said.
Reading this tragic account of the death of the 27th victim of the viral epidemic, how can the Health Minister make such a heartless and unfounded allegation of blaming the death of Andyrickson on the parents for bringing him to the hospital when it was too late?
Jui Meng had in fact openly maligned parents and grandmother of Andyrickson, completely insensitive of justice and their suffering - and this is most unbecoming of a Health Minister!
Chua Jui Meng should also openly acknowledge his error in giving parents the impression that the deadly viral attack only affected children below five years old, which was the reason given by both the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education for refusing to accede to public calls for the declaration of emergency school holidays for Std. I, II and III classes in Sarawak during the first two weeks of the school re-opening.
Now, a six-year old girl from Miri has become the oldest victim of the deadly viral attack in Sarawak.
The six-year-old girl was hospitalised on June 10 and was said to be "brain-dead" since June 12, dying at 3.15 a.m. yesterday after battling the infection for two weeks.
This means that latest by June 10, the Health Minister knew that a six-year-old girl had fallen victim to the viral epidemic, and it is the height of irresponsibility on his part to mislead the Malaysian public that only children below five years are prone to the viral attack.
The case of the six-year-old infant victim of the viral attack has proved those parents to be right and wise who have kept their children away from the Sarawak schools when the Health and Education authorities have refused to declare emergency holidays, and even taken them out of Sarawak.
This is one critical reason why the Chua Jui Meng had such a yawning public credibility and had lost public confidence in his management of the viral epidemic crisis.
As a result of Chua Jui Meng announcing on 9th June that the Health Ministry had confirmed that the killer viral outbreak in Sarawak was caused by a virulent strain of the Coxsackie virus B, all Sarawak mass media are still referring to the virus as coxsackie virus B, and even the Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister, Datuk Dr. George Chan, keeps talking about Coxsackie Virus B attack - when all the medical experts whether local or foreign have admitted that they had not isolated the virus concerned, and that it could be some other virus apart from Coxsackie Virus B or A, that it may not be an enterovirus and could be an adenovirus.
This is another critical factor for Chua Jui Meng’s yawning public credibility gap.