(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): The public should be given full information about the third and fourth cases of pig farms in Penang state tested Nipah virus positive and the culling of the pigs on the farms to prevent the spread of unfounded rumours.
In the third case (second case in Kampung Valdor), 2,050 pigs were destroyed while about 2,000 pigs are involved in the fourth case (also in Kampong Valdor).
Altogether in the four cases in Penang state, some 8,000 pigs have been destroyed. It is unfair to compensate RM50 for each pig destroyed and the DAP calls on the authorities concerned to ensure that the compensation is increased to RM250 per pig.
Public interest, particularly the fundamental right to health of the people, must take precedence in the handling of Nipah outbreak and the public should not be denied information on the ground that the release of such information would adversely affect other sectors of the economy, such as the tourist industry, as in this era of instant communications, there can be no effective way to suppress information and news without undermining public confidence in the credibility and trustworthiness of the administration.
With the increasing number of pig farms tested Nipah virus positive and the continued destruction of the pigs in the various parts of the country, the government must act justly on the question of fair and adequate compensation for the pigs destroyed.
In the Parliamentary meeting in March and April, I had castigated the Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng for fighting the wrong virus, claiming for six months that the viral outbreak was Japanese enchephalities when it was the Nipah virus, causing unnecessary deaths and avoidable ruin to the pig-rearing industry by such misdiagnosis, mishandling and mistreatment.
Although the Cabinet Committee is still called JE Cabinet Committee, the Director General of Veterinary Services, Dr Mohd Nordin Mohd Nor, have quietly admitted that the viral outbreak was Nipah rather than JE, in an "Emergency report" dated 15th May 1999, which said:
"The outbreak of Nipah disease in Malaysia, which has caused human
fatalities, has been attributed to a viral infection in pigs. The outbreak
in 1998/99 has been investigated and traced back to earlier incidences
which were provisionally diagnosed as Japanese encephalitis (JE).
"In 1997, the illness was reported in a number of pig-farm workers,
whom died. Most of them received treatment at private hospitals.
"In 1998, more cases of viral encephalitis were reported and two
villages were affected. A special Task Force comprising officers from the
medical and veterinary departments was formed. By the end of 1998, ten
workers from Tambun, Ulu Piah and Ampang had died from the disease after
being in a coma for periods ranging from four days to a few weeks. Among
the viral encephalitis cases, only about 15% were confirmed as JE, leaving
the remaining 85% undetermined.
"By mid-December 1998, the disease had spread to Sikamat, about
60 km south
of Kuala Lumpur, through movement of infected pigs. Seven of the 20 workers
developed the disease and five died in January 1999.
"By March 1999 the disease had spread to the major pig producing
Bukit Pelandok in the State of Negeri Sembilan.
"The Department of Medical Microbiology, University of Malaya, successfully
isolated an unknown virus. The virus was sent to the Arbovirus Research
Center, Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Fort Collins, Colorado, United
States of America. There, the Malaysian and United States scientists worked
together to study the characteristics of the virus. On 18 March 1999, the
CDC announced that the isolate was of a genus closely related to the Hendra
virus, a paramyxovirus first isolated in Brisbane, Australia, in 1994. On
10 April 1999, the isolate was officially called the Nipah virus, named
after the village Sungai Nipah in Negeri Sembilan, where the worker from
whom the virus was isolated had died.
"The disease spread to more farms and, from 1 March to 10 May 1999,
of 224 suspected cases of viral encephalitis occurred in Negeri Sembilan
with 80 fatalities.
"Out of a total of 258 persons suspected of being infected with
virus, 100 have died."
Why had the Health Minister withheld from the public some of the facts admitted in this "emergency report" of the Director of Veterinary Services, that the Nipah virus outbreak could have gone back as early as 1997?
It is clear that the full story about the viral encephalities outbreak had not been told or known, and this is why the government should give serious consideration to the DAP proposal for a full commission of inquiry into the worst virus outbreak disaster in Malaysian history, as Malaysians are entitled to the full facts of this disaster compounded by gross Ministerial incompetence.