(Petaling Jaya, Saturday): The Health Ministry should stop its bumble-and-bungle and get its act together to provide effective and competent leadership to bring the hand, foot and mouth (HFM) epidemic under control without any more loss of lives.
The mixed signals, confusion and contradictions emanating from the government in its handling of the HFM epidemic in the past few days do not enhance public confidence that the country has the most effective and competent crisis management team and strategy to fight the HFM epidemic, highlighted by the fact that neighbouring Singapore is re-opening its kindergartens and childcare centres on Monday when kindergartens and play areas in Johore Bahru have just been ordered to be closed and all government childcare centres and kindergartens advised to close temporarily to help the Government to contain the spread of HFM disease.
The National Unity and Social Development Minister, Datuk Dr. Siti Zaharah Sulaiman said the temporary closure of all state-run childcare centres and kindergartens, involving 1,165 kindergartens under the ministry and another 1,000-odd licensed by the Welfare Ministry, was "a necessary precautionary measure".
However, the Deputy Health Director-General Datuk Dr. Mohamad Taha Arif, who announced the activation of the ministry’s crisis management centre to monitor the HFM epidemic which had claimed a life each in Johore, Kedah and Selangor, did not agree with the Minister on the closure of kindergartens and childcare centres, saying:
It is tragic that Mohamad Taha does not realise that his statement could only further undermine parental confidence in the Health Ministry’s sensitivity, capability and competence to fight the HFM outbreak. If three HFM deaths are not enough to constitute a HFM "outbreak", is the Ministry of Health waiting for the fatality list to cross the threshhold of 30 deaths as in the case of the enterovirus (EV) 71 epidemic in Sarawak in 1997 before it would condescend to admit that there is an "outbreak" and an epidemic?
It is most distressing and confidence-destroying that the Health authorities have given the impression that it had not been fully frank with the public about the HFM outbreak and is engaged in an exercise to minimise the seriousness of the outbreak, as happened previously in the 1999 Nipah virus and 1997 Sarawak virus epidemics.
Even now, there is confusion as to whether there had been two or three HFM deaths in the country, with different national newspapers reporting different figures.
Furthermore, why was the HFM death of the 30-month-old boy in
Alor Star on Oct. 7 not made public until a week later on Oct. 12? Why
was there a sudden HFM fatality in the Klang Valley on Thursday when
the Cabinet was assured only a day earlier that the HFM situation in the
country was under control and the Malaysian public given the impression
that the Klang Valley was "HFM-free"?
Parliament’s first task when its meets on Monday is to debate Health Ministry’s mishandling and mismanagement of the HFM outbreak to avoid fatalities and it should give this item topmost priority, with a White Paper presented by the Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng, to be followed immediately by a wide-ranging parliamentary debate.