DAP offers full co-operation with
government to stop increasing SARS incidence by ensuring full public support
and confidence in a nation-wide SARS alert and awareness campaign
by Lim Kit Siang
I have today sent a third email in a week on the Severe Acute Respiratory
Syndrome (SARS) outbreak to the Acting Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah
Ahmad Badawi, offering the DAP's full co-operation with the government to
stop increasing SARS incidence by ensuring full public support and
confidence in a nation-wide SARS alert and awareness campaign.
Referring to Abdullah's call yesterday to Malaysians not to panic over the
first SARS death in the country, I stressed that the Achilles' heel of the
National Committee on SARS campaign is the lack of public confidence that it
is fully implementing the Cabinet directive for full transparency on the
I referred to an excellent article
by veteran journalist Foong Pek Yee in today's The Star entitled "Public
must be given proper health warnings" who quoted an unnamed senior
medical specialist as saying: : "It is very important to get the public
on the side of the medical authorities, right from the beginning and at
every stage when handling outbreaks or potential outbreaks."
This is where the authorities have
failed to date, whether on the current deadly SARS outbreak, the ongoing
worst dengue in the nation's history which have killed over 100 people, the
nipah virus epidemic in 1999 which killed over 106 people or the coxsackie
virus epidemic in 1997 which killed more than 30 children in Sarawak in
As Fong rightly pointed out, the "No
SARS case" assurance by the Health Minister Datuk Chua Jui Meng and the
commendation of the World Health Organisation (WHO) regional representative
for the Health Ministry's "swift action" in checking SARS had given
the Malaysian public "little comfort", and their "suspicious
culture" (Chua's own words) have been proved right when the Cabinet
decision for full transparency on SARS last Wednesday showed that there were
59 suspected SARS cases - which could not have turned up overnight!
In my email to Abdullah today, I expressed concern that restoring and
ensuring full public confidence, co-operation and support in the nation-wide
SARS alert and awareness campaign has not been given top priority, which can
only come about if the public are fully convinced that the health
authorities are fully complying with the new Cabinet policy of full
transparency on the SARS outbreak and not pursuing a semi-transparency
approach by withholding all the facts and figures about the SARS outbreak or
engaging in a game of semantics to downplay its full severity, particularly
in failing to comply with the WHO case definitions of "suspected" and
"probable" SARS cases.
When the Health Minister and the
Health director-general were striking the "no SARS cases, no suspected
SARS cases or deaths caused by SARS" stance, I sent an email to Abdullah
expressing my disbelief that there were no SARS cases in the country.
Now that the Health Minister and the Health director-general are claiming
that there are 75 suspected SARS cases as on Saturday but not a single "probable"
SARS case, I told Abdullah that I do not believe the figures released by the
National Committee on SARS.
I offered however to be proved wrong by the Health Minister or the Health
director-general, and I am prepared to openly admit that I was wrong in my
disbelief if either one of them could convince me otherwise.
If I do not believe that the National Committee on SARS is fully complying
with the Cabinet directive of full transparency on SARS, how could the
authorities expect the public to have such a belief and to have full public
confidence and support in the nation-wide SARS alert and awareness campaign?
It is a matter of grave concern that after the four daily updates, the
Health Minister and the Health director-general failed to give a daily
update yesterday, probably on the ground that it was Sunday, except that the
coronavirus or the paramyxovirus responsible for the deadly SARS disease do
not observe Sunday holidays! The global death toll from SARS have reached 95
spanning over 20 countries in four continents, just short of the century
The rule imposed by the National Committee on SARS that only the Health
Minister or the Health director-general can give figures about SARS should
be rescinded, for it is not calculated to inspire confidence that the
authorities concerned are complying with the Cabinet policy of full
transparency on the SARS outbreak.
The respective hospital superintendents, particularly the designated
hospitals for SARS, should be allowed to give daily updates of SARS cases to
the media and the public - as this would be the best assurance to the
Malaysian people that there is full transparency and no "cover-up",
the most powerful weapon to combat rumour-mongering which could lead to
The media should be able to trace and state the truth about every rumour
about SARS incidence directly from the respective hospital superintendents
anywhere in Malaysia, rather than to wait for a sanitized version of
semi-transparency from the Health Minister or the Health director-general in
For instance, there just appeared on an Internet mailing list of a report of
a suspected SARS case in Sabah concerning a German tourist, who was
allegedly admitted to Sabah Medical Centre at about 12 noon on April 1 with
symptoms resembling SARS. He was guest of a leading hotel in Kota Kinabalu,
who joined a group of Hong Kong tourists to climb Mount Kinabalu on March
10. Few days later, he was down with illness and was attended by the hotel's
resident doctor. But after many days of medication -- no improvement. The
doctor decided to send him to Sabah Medical Centre and he is now being
transferred to Queen Elizabeth Hospital for quarantine.
There should be a mechanism where the Sabah authorities should be able to
either confirm, deny or clarify such reports without having to wait for the
daily updates by the Health Minister or the Health director-general in the
Lim Kit Siang, DAP National