Health Minister, Chua Jui Meng should table a White Paper in Parliament on July 14 to give a full report on the deadly viral epidemic in Sarawak which had killed 29 and why after more than two months the killer virus is still undetected


Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Thursday):
The Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng, should table a White Paper in Parliament on July 14 when Dewan Rakyat reconvenes to give a full report on the deadly viral epidemic in Sarawak which had killed 29 children and why after more than two months, the killer virus is still undetected.

In this White Paper, the Health Minister should explain why the viral epidemic in Sarawak could not have been brought under control earlier after the first reported death on April 14 and what lesson his Ministry had learnt for future epidemic management crisis to ensure public confidence is never lost as has happened in the Sarawak viral epidemic crisis.

At a time when the deadly virus is still on a rampage, this is not the time for finger-pointing or blame-pinning. However, answers caused by the mishandling and pure bungling in the crisis management of the viral epidemic attack should be acknowledged by the Health Minister as this concerns the important question of restoring public confidence.

The Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng for instance cannot pretend that he did not announce to the nation and the world in a press conference on June 9 that the Health Ministry had confirmed that the killer viral outbreak in Sarawak was caused by a virulent strain of the coxsackie virus B, and when this was found not to be correct, he announced four days later the establishment of a three-man independent medical review panel to determine the causes of the deaths.

This three-man independent medical review panel was never heard of again after the announcement, and nine days later, Chua Jui Meng said "People should not be fixated on finding out the viral agent responsible but be more concerned about protecting their children from infection".

The Health Minister should have the humility to admit that he had made an error of judgement in mistakenly announcing that the Health Ministry had identified the killer virus as Coxsackie Virus B and start on a new leaf in the viral epidemic crisis management to restore public confidence.

As it is, nobody knows the real virus behind the epidemic. The Univesiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) deputy vice chancellor Dr Ghazally Ismail told the Sarawak media two days ago that the viral infection that had killed 29 young patients since April 14 was more complex than what had been previously thought by experts.

"There are no conclusive findings to pinpoint the virus (or viruses) that is attacking and killing the children," added Dr Ghazally who heads the universityís Research and Services Department.

Dr Ghazally, who is also a professor of immunology, said so far experts had identified three possibilities - Adenovirus, Entereovirus 71 (EV71) and Coxsackie B virus.

"However there is doubt as to what is actually killing the patients," he said. He added that what was sure now was that the Coxsackie A virus was currently infecting children in West Malaysia.

In order to look for the real killer, Dr Ghazally said Unimas had decided to take a step backward to seek a rational way out of the maze of confusion.

"We are looking at the whole situation from a fresh perspective. We hope not to bark up he wrong tree again."

The Health Minister should have been more informative like Dr. Ghazally and practise the humility of Dr. Ghazally, as it would go some way to restore the publicity credibility gap over the Ministerís crisis management of the viral epidemic.

(26/6/97)


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