Five proposals for Chua Jui Meng to restore public confidence in Health Ministry’s capability, professionalism and transparency in handling the deadly SARS outbreak
Media Conference Statement
- DAP campaign to raise public SARS awareness at Jelutong market
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Wednesday): Yesterday’s briefing by the Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng to Members of Parliament on the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak and situation in Malaysia was a farce as Chua was not prepared to be fully accountable and transparent or was unable to answer penetrative questions by Opposition MPs, as for instance, the questions by the DAP MP for Bukit Mertajam Chong Eng as to how the Health Ministry could declare on March 31 that Malaysia was “free from SARS” and yet 24 hours later, admit that there were 44 suspected SARS cases – when a day earlier, there was a case of SARS death of the patient from Jerantut in the Kuala Lumpur General Hospital or why the public and nation was not immediately alerted when the first suspected SARS case was reported very much earlier last month?
Chua’s unsatisfactory briefing to MPs yesterday, like his briefing to newspaper editors-in-chief the day earlier, had only made things worse by further damaging public credibility and reinforcing concerns that the health authorities are not on top of the SARS outbreak because of a complete lack of understanding of the critical importance of public confidence in any effective strategy to combat a public health menace like the new killer virus, which had killed at least 103 people, infected 2,800 people in some 28 countries in four continents.
For instance, the announcement by Chua on Monday that his Ministry would no longer give the cumulative number of suspected SARS cases had been met by public consternation that the three-day semi-transparency on the SARS outbreak after the Cabinet meeting last Wednesday was being further curbed, raising questions in many minds as to what the Ministry is trying to hide.
Furthermore, it has created confusion galore about the actual number of SARS cases in the country, which is not calculated to inspire public confidence in the capability, professionalism and transparency of the authorities in dealing with the SARS outbreak.
This has forced some newspapers like New Straits Time and Sin Chew Daily to keep their own score of the cumulative number of suspected SARS cases, namely as of yesterday, 99 suspected cases, five families quarantined, 32 isolated in wards, two probable cases and one death – as it is a matter of public interest as well as the public’s right to know the cumulative number of SARS cases every day.
Or will Chua be issuing a directive to the newspapers to ban them from toting up their own cumulative number of SARS cases every day, just as the newspapers had earlier been warned not to give front-page prominence to the SARS outbreak or to highlight any SARS death so as not to scare off tourists?
The more than doubling of suspected SARS cases in a matter of a week, i.e. from 44 cases on 31 March (when there was “zero case” on 30th March) to 99 cases yesterday, must be a matter of grave concern, which has not been reflected in any of the pronouncements by Chua, who seems to be more interested in an “ego” trip, endlessly referring to the commendation at the way Malaysia handled the SARS outbreak by the World Health Organisation (WHO) regional representative some three weeks ago when he was very successful in keeping under wraps the actual SARS situation in the country or claiming that he had done better than Singapore in dealing with the SARS crisis.
Chua should forget his “ego trip” and single-mindedly concentrate on the task at hand – to stop the SARS outbreak in Malaysia, which must be based on a combination of three factors, professionalism, public confidence and transparency. The battle against the new killer virus cannot be won if there is no professionalism or public confidence, and the latter hinges on a policy of full transparency.
DAP hereby makes five proposals for Chua Jui Meng to restore public confidence in the Health Ministry’s capability, professionalism and transparency in handling the deadly SARS outbreak, viz:
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman