Call on Health Minister to give full and regular report  to the Malaysian public on the latest developments of the Nipah virus outbreak in the country


Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang 
 

(Petaling Jaya, Friday): The report earlier this week that one person had died after suffering a relapse of the Nipah virus infection, while three others were  being given outpatient treatment at the University of Malaya University  Hospital should raise public alarm as to whether the Nipah virus outbreak had been completely brought under control as claimed by the authorities.

I call on the Health Minister,  Datuk Chua Jui Meng  to give full and regular report to the Malaysian public on the latest development of the Nipah virus outbreak, which has already claimed 105 lives, especially as there is talk that medical experts are expecting another bout of the deadly Nipah virus outbreak in the coming months.

It is most shocking that the government is still suffering from a denial syndrome, still pretending that the worst viral epidemic in the nationís history was Japanese Encephalitis (JE) when it is the deadly new Nipah virus, as seen by the fact that it is still talking about the Special Cabinet Committee on JE and the JE Humanitarian Fund!

Even in Parliament last week, when asking for a RM7.5 million supplementary vote for the Health Ministry, the reason given was to fight the JE virus - when it had been clearly established that the killer virus was Nipah virus and not JE virus!

It is very disturbing that the authorities recently had tried to censor news about the Nipah virus outbreak, including the culling of pigs in certain states after Nipah tests have turned out to be positive, raising questions as to whether the government is being frank and honest with the people on this issue.

In early May, Chua said the health  ministry knew the danger posed by the Nipah virus based on an incident involving a patient who died 13 months after being discharged from hospital.  As the Nipah virus was only identified in March this year, does this mean that this patient had been afflicted with the Nipah virus as far back as early 1998, when the Health Minister was leading the pack blaming the virus epidemic on JE?

Recent reports about  the relapse of four people treated at the University Hospital, with quite severe symptoms,  and the first case of late onset of the disease involving a woman  who  left her farm more than three  months ago and was not sick at all but now reported encephalitis warrant the Health Minister keeping the public fully in the picture - not only with regard to University Hospital, but also other hospitals in other states.

It is a matter of grave concern that the Malaysian government is not prepared to incur the expenditures to ensure that we have the capabilities to fight the Nipah virus, which has been classified by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, United States into  Biosafety Level 4, putting it in the class known as "the most dangerous organisms known to man", an "elite" group of bugs which includes the Ebola virus.

International protocols require a superlab - known as P4 - for handling this group of organisms. Malaysia does not have a P4 lab as they are very expensive to set up and maintain.

If Malaysia can have the tallest building, the grandest Prime Ministerís office and residence in the world, there is no reason why Malaysia should not aim to have a P4 lab to deal with the Nipah virus, which have already cost the loss of 105 lives as well as the near collapse of the RM2.5 billion pig rearing and food  industry.

In Parliament last week, I had repeated my proposal that pig breeders should be compensated RM250 for each pig culled, and the Deputy Agriculture Minister, Tengku Mohamud Tengku Mansor, said that the matter would be discussed in the Special Cabinet Committee on JE.

As the Deputy Chairman of the Special Cabinet Committee on JE is the MCA President and Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik,  I hope he would requisition an emergency meeting of the Special Cabinet Committee and personally ensure that this proposal to increase the compensation for each pig culled from RM50 to RM250 for the million pigs destroyed would be raised and adopted so that justice is done to the victims of the worst viral epidemic outbreak in the nationís history.

(30/7/99)


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