(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): The gag order by the Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng barring all state health departments from making statements on Japanese encephalitis (JE) cases runs the risk of precipitating a crisis of credibility if the public come to the view that the Health Ministry has things to hide.
The Health Minister does not have a good record of being fully frank
and forthcoming with the people with regard to outbreak of diseases, and
he should learn from the public relations disaster in the so-called Coxsackie
B Virus epidemic in Sarawak in 1997, when he insisted on monopolising all
press conferences from Kuala Lumpur on news about the epidemic in Sarawak
and worst of all, his announcement on June 9, 1997 that the Health Ministry had identified the viral killer as coxsackie virus B although no medical expert, whether local and foreign, has to date been able to diagnose the real cause.
It was subsequently revealed that there had been 42 fatalities resulting from the enterovirus infection between April 1 to October 18, 1997 - 31 in Sarawak, two in Sabah and nine in Pensinular Malaysia - confirming the worst fears of health practitioners, NGOs and knowledgeable members of the public that the Health Ministry had not been fully open and forthcoming with regard to the enterovirus epidemic in Peninsular Malaysia after the so-called Coxsackie B Virus epidemic in Sarawak in the middle of 1997, with vital information and statistics about the epidemic withheld from the public.
Now, Chua Jui Meng seems to heading for a repetition of the same P.R. blunder and I call on him to lift the "gag order" and to allow all the state departments to inform the public about the status and development of the JE cases.
The Health Minister should realise that there is no way the government can convince Malaysians that the JE situation is under control when he has to impose a "gag order" to bar all state health departments to make statements on JE cases. In fact, such a gag order would be taken by the people as conclusive proof that the JE situation is not under control!