DAP memo calling on Mahathir to suspend Chua Jui Meng and Ong Ka Ting as
Health and Housing/Local Government Ministers for their failure to heed the
July WHO warning and take effective anti-dengue counter measures, resulting
in the loss of over 40 lives in the past 6 months as well as the
misinformation campaign lulling Malaysians into complacency about the lethal
Media Conference Statement
by Lim Kit Siang
DAP will send a memorandum to the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir
Mohamad calling for the suspension of Datuk Chua Jui Meng as Minister for
Health and Datuk Ong Ka Ting as Minister for Housing and Local Government
for their failure to heed the July World Health Organisation (WHO) warning
and take effective anti-dengue counter measures, resulting in the loss of
over 40 lives in the past 6 months as well as the misinformation campaign
lulling Malaysians into complacency about the lethal outbreak.
Last July, the WHO issued a warning from Geneva that 2002 was shaping up to
be a bad year for dengue fever and urged governments and individuals to
protect against the aedes mosquitoes which spread the infection.
Mike Nathan of WHO's department of communicable diseases said: "This year is
looking a bit like 1998 when we had a pandemic. It's a very worrying
picture". He added that a record 1.2 million cases of dengue fever were
reported in 1998.
1998 was Malaysia's worst year for dengue, when there was a total of 27,379
dengue cases and 58 deaths.
According to data from the World Health Organisation, which are available on
the Internet, the figures for "Dengue fever/dengue haemorrhagic fever cases
and deaths" for Malaysia from 1991 to 2000 ( the data for 2001 are not
available) are as follows:
No. of cases
1. (www.wpro.who.int/document/ DENGUE_SITUATION_IN_WPR_Aug01.doc)
The first six months of last year already saw a sharp rise in the incidence
of dengue fever in the country, which surged 31 per cent and claimed 11
lives as compared to the comparative period the previous year.
AFP of 22nd July 2002 reported 11 dengue deaths in the first six months
which occurred in Perak, Selangor and Negri Sembilan. New Straits Times of
18th July 2002 quoted the Kuala Lumpur City Hall public relations officer
Shariffuddin Ibrahim as reporting that the number of dengue cases in the
city had increased four-fold in the first six months of the year with some
703 cases recorded.
In the six months in the second half of last year, over 40 people had
succumbed to the aedes mosquitoes when their deaths could have been avoided
or the toll minimized considerably if the authorities responsible had
launched a high-impact media campaign latest by the time of the WHO warning
in July to create a nation-wide alert and awareness about the return of the
On Monday, in response to my earlier statement the same day calling for the
resignation of Chua Jui Meng as Health Minister for his inept handling of
the virulent dengue outbreak, the parliamentary secretary to the Health
Ministry, S. Sothinathan told the AFP that the dengue outbreak had so far
claimed 54 lives last year, which was only four short of the worst dengue
outbreak in 1998 which killed 58 or 43 more than the death toll of 11 in the
first six months of last year.
This confirmed gross negligence on the part of the Health Minister. I have
brought Ong Ka Ting into the picture, also calling for his suspension, as in
one of his rare statements for the whole of last year on the virulent dengue
outbreak two weeks ago, Chua was at pains to make the public aware that the
Ministry of Housing and Local Government was equally responsible for the
rise in dengue fever cases.
Speaking after representing the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah
Ahmad Badawi at the launch of the National Lion and Dragon Dance competition
in Johore Bahru on 13th December 2002, Chua revealed that the Cabinet had
instructed the two Ministries to "co-operate and co-ordinate all dengue
prevention efforts". Chua in fact said that the Housing and Local Government
Ministry had been "instructed to take all the primary prevention efforts
since 72% of the cases are reported in areas under the jurisdiction of the
ministry and its agencies"!
It is a national tragedy that an effective anti-dengue campaign and the
lives of over 40 people should become the casualties not only of the
inter-Ministry tussle under the departments headed by Chua and Ong but also
the victims of the power play between the MCA Team A and Team B factions!
What is additionally most reprehensible is a deliberate pattern of
misinformation lulling the people into complacency about the lethal dengue
outbreak, when there should have been a high-impact media campaign to create
full public awareness about the virulent dengue outbreak so that immediate
help is sought in cases of fever (with or without rash), which could mean
life or death for children, who suffered the most fatalities in the current
Although Sothinathan told AFP on Monday that the dengue outbreak had so far
claimed 54 lives last year, this fact was not reported in any local press.
In fact, in the past three days, the local media continued to report about
26 deaths from the dengue outbreak last year (13 in Selangor, 10 in Perak
and 3 in Sarawak) - which was less than half of the actual fatalities.
Berita Harian reports on Monday and Tuesday (including its Monday editorial
titled "Bertindak segera elak demam denggi merebak") and the New Straits
Times today in its report (p. 6) on "Ipoh City Council plans to eradicate
dengue menace" continue to use the statistics of 26 deaths from the dengue
outbreak last year.
One has to do a lot of sleuth work and very diligent and discerning reading
in order to get a proper picture in the various states, especially as these
reports are given very insignificant coverage tucked away in obscure
corners, such as the NST report yesterday of 979 dengue cases and four
deaths in Sarawak as of 30th December last year as compared to 455 cases the
previous year and the obscure NST report today of 2,346 dengue cases and 20
deaths in Johore last year.
Among the other states which had reported deaths from the dengue outbreak
last year were Kuala Lumpur (4 -end of August: NST 13.9.02), Negri Sembilan
(5 - end of December: Utusan Malaysia 27.12.02) and Kelantan (1 - Berita
Both Chua and Ong should explain why there is a systematic campaign of
misinformation to mislead Malaysians about the seriousness of the overall
national picture of the dengue outbreak and the failure of the authorities
to give regular, true and accurate information about the dengue outbreak
nation-wide, which is the most vital element in any national dengue alert
and meaningful anti-dengue strategy.
Sothinathan's revelation to AFP that in 2001, Malaysia had posted 50 deaths
from the dengue outbreak is a "shocker", for it is not public knowledge that
the dengue outbreak in 2001 was so serious as to claim 50 lives, making it
together with 1997 as the second worst dengue year for the country in terms
of death toll - another example of the lack of openness and transparency in
the anti-dengue campaign.
We still do not have the true figures of the total number of dengue cases
last year and the final death toll as to whether the number of deaths from
dengue last year was even higher than the 58 death toll for the worst dengue
year in 1998.
The Prime Minister should establish a high-powered inquiry, involving the
Malaysian Medical Association (which had strangely been most silent during
the whole period of the dengue outbreak last year), as to how the government
could have committed such colossal blunders in the anti-dengue campaign
failing to heed the WHO warning in July so as to save lives and minimize the
toll of more than 40 lives in the second half of last year.
Malaysians must be assured that these irresponsibilities and incompetence
would not be repeated as the number of dengue cases are expected to rise in
the first half of the new year because of the forecast for warmer weather
over the period. With higher temperatures, mosquitoes multiply much faster
and bite more frequently, thus increasing the chances of transmission of the
dengue virus, from person to person.
Lim Kit Siang, DAP National