(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday): The Health
Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng should come forward to accept responsibility
for the mishandling of the deadly Nipah virus outbreak, causing the totally
unnecessary and avoidable deaths of 85 people in Bukit Pelanduk and Sikamat
in Negri Sembilan and the ruination of the RM2.5 billion pig rearing and
pork industries, and not hide behind the back of some government servants
Instead of replying directly to my statement about his misdiagnosis and mishandling of the Nipah virus outbreak (and even now, we are still having a Cabinet Committee on JE and a JE Humanitarian Fund when everybody knows that it is not a JE outbreak but a Nipah virus outbreak and catastrophe), Chua Jui Meng has got a government officer to respond to me.
I do not propose to be entangled with any government officer when it is the Health Minister himself who should be accountable and responsible for the totally unnecessary and avoidable deaths and financial disaster.
During the debate on the Seventh Malaysia Plan Mid-Term Review in Parliament, I had pursued the issue of the Ministerial misdiagnosis and mishandling of the Nipah virus disaster but Chua Jui Meng dared not come to Dewan Rakyat to reply. Even his Deputy Health Minister, Datuk Rustam Ali, dared not touch on the subject of the deadly Nipah virus catastrophe when winding up the debate on the Health Ministry last Thursday although this is a subject which is the top concern of national and international medical authorities - except for the Malaysian Parliament, where MCA MPs prefer to steer clear of the issue.
Yesterday, I raised in Parliament for the fourth time in the current meeting of Parliament the totally unnecessary and avoidable 85 deaths in Negri Sembilan and the ruination of the RM2.5 billion pig rearing and pork industries if Malaysia has a competent, efficient and responsible Health Minister, and suggested that the government should adopt a series of measures as compensation, starting with the increase from RM50 to RM200 as compensation for each pig destroyed.
But Chua Jui Meng dared not come to the Dewan Rakyat to reply to Opposition queries and speeches about the Nipah virus disaster, although he finds it more comfortable and "safer" to turn up at the Dewan Negara to talk about the subject - as he would not be cross-examined and even grilled by DAP MPs as in the Dewan Rakyat.
This is also why Chua Jui Meng had chosen to use a government official to reply to my query directed to him why he had ignored the warnings which had been given by top local virologists as far back as last November that the Health Ministry should be looking for another killer virus apart from JE virus - which would have spared Bukit Pelanduk and Negri Sembilan from any loss of lives or the collapse of the pig rearing industry.
Chua Jui Meng should stop hiding behind the back of some government official and step forward to explain the misdiagnosis and mishandling of the Nipah virus disaster to the extent it had caused the unnecessary and avoidable deaths of 85 people in Bukit Pelanduk and Sikamat and the ruination of the pig-rearing industry.
Yesterday in Parliament, I referred to the article in the 16th April 1999 issue (Volume 284) of the Science magazine, the publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which reported that the Unimas virologist, Jane Cardosa, had called the health ministry in November and again in January urging officials to look for alternative infectious agents. She also expressed her doubts in a January message to ProMED, an electronic forum for emerging-disease researchers. Instead of acting on her warnings, the government’s response was an e-mail reprimanding her for questioning the official theory.
There are articles in other foreign publications about the government’s misdiagnosis and mishandling of the Nipah virus outbreak, for which Chua Jui Meng should respond in a rational and responsible manner instead of hurling abuses and accusations such as implying that I am naïve in believing foreign publications or worse, that I am a stooge of foreign agents.
Firstly, the Far Eastern Economic Review (April 22, 1998) issue on the Nipah virus disaster quoted Jane Cardoza as saying that the incident illustrated that "the government just won’t listen to other people’s opinions." She said: "Professionals who are highly competent have no avenue of communication".
The article in the Washington Post of 29th April 1999, by staff reporter, Keith B. Richburg under the heading "Govt blundered in tackling virus", also calls for a full and proper response from Chua Jui Meng.
The article, among other things, said:
"’I offered in October and November and December to do tests for them,’ Cardosa said. ‘We do tests for JE every day.’ But the Health Ministry relied on its own lab, the Institute for Medical Research, and early on ‘they made a clear stand that this was JE,’ she said.
"’At the time, it was probably an honest mistake. . . . They made sure that no samples got into our hands, so they had total control of the information,’ she said.
"Cardosa said that by immunizing pig farm workers against JE, the government then compounded its initial mistake, creating what she called a topological knot: That is, as people continued to die, autopsy results showed JE antibodies in their system -- but the antibodies came from the vaccine, not the disease.
"Cardosa said she is baffled that the government continues to label the disease JE, even as international experts, including the CDC scientists, have confirmed it is a Hendra-like virus."
If it is true that Jane Cardoza had offered as far back as last October to help in diagnosing the cause of the viral encephalitis outbreak and her offer was not taken up, the Health Minister should give a proper accounting for such a negative attitude which could have saved some 100 lives as well as the RM2.5 billion pig-rearing and pork industries.
Be that as it may, the least the Health Minister should do now is to agree to the establishment of a full public inquiry to ascertain why he had made two major mistakes in two years in misdiagnosing and mishandling deadly virus outbreaks, one on the so-called Coxsackie B Virus outbreak in Sarawak in 1997 which killed 42 people and the Nipah virus outbreak which has claimed over 100 lives - to ensure that there would not be a third misdiagnosis and mishandling of another viral outbreak causing more unnecessary and avoidable deaths in future.