Families of the over 40 dengue fatalities in the last six months are entitled to sue both the Health Ministry and the Housing and local Government Ministry for compensation over government negligence in failing to launch a nation-wide dengue alert despite the WHO warning last July which could have saved lives or reduced deaths
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Saturday): On the first day of the new year, Wednesday, 1st January 2003, two children died of the virulent dengue disease, six-year-old boy Mohd Kamil Zulkifli from Indera Mahkota, Kuantan and a two-year-old child from Kampung Manjoi, Ipoh.
Only the Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng and the Housing and Local Government Minister, Datuk Ong Ka Ting, who have been jointly made responsible by the Cabinet for the dengue outbreak, can tell Malaysians how many dengue cases and fatalities occurred in the first three days of the new year!
Today’s Berita Harian carried the heart-rending report of Mohd Wazir Ariffin, 43, from Kampung Sungai Kerayong, Taman Maluri, Cheras, Kuala Lumpur who lost his two daughters, Siti Zalikha Mohd Wazir, 11 and Siti Zaharah, 13, within two days last Christmas because of dengue.
Up to now, Malaysians have not been given the full statistics of the total number of dengue cases and fatalities in the the virulent dengue outbreak last year, although it is known that there were at least 54 deaths by the end of the year, with over 40 deaths occurring in the second half of the year.
Both the Health and Housing/Local Government Ministries had been doubly negligent in the anti-dengue effort last year by defeating the very purpose of making the dengue disease notifiable since 1973, so that there could be effective disease surveillance to ensure a timely public health campaign to check the spread of the deadly communicable disease with the full support of the public.
When a disease is made “notifiable” under the law, every case has to be reported to the relevant health authorities by all hospitals, physicians, laboratories, and other persons knowing of or suspecting a case in accordance with the provision of the relevant statutes and regulations – which means that the government has the latest daily update of the total number of dengue cases and deaths in each state.
In other countries like Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States, timely reports of the incidence of “notifiable diseases” are put on websites which are accessible to all concerned about public health, as for instance the Kent County in Michigan, USA, where the Monthly Communicable Disease Report is posted on its health website no later than the 15th of the month
or the “Notifiable Diseases Monthly Report” of the Population and Public Health Branch (PPHB) of Canada which gives reports by province on the website:
In Malaysia, however, these information about “notifiable diseases” like the virulent dengue outbreak last year concerning number of dengue cases and fatalities, and their incidence according to age, gender, locality and ethnicity are all closely-guarded secrets under the Official Secrets Act as if their disclosures are even more dangerous than terrorist attacks and could threaten the security and survival of Malaysia!
Furthermore, the websites of the Health Ministry and its various state public health departments, if they exist, are classic examples of expensive and elaborate “cobwebsites” which conceal rather than reveal information about public health and a sheer waste of public funds while totally irrelevant to the people’s needs.
In the past one month, I had issued ten media statements calling on the authorities to make public the statistics on the number of dengue cases and fatalities with a state-by-state and month-by-month breakdown for the whole of last year, but they all fell on deaf ears. Three weeks ago, I sought a meeting with the Health Minister to raise my concern at the high number of dengue cases and deaths, particularly among young children, but Chua was too busy in his MCA Team A and Team B power struggle to have time to care about the mounting avoidable dengue deaths.
It is really tragic that when the people were faced last year with what could possibly be the worst dengue year in the nation’s history – worse than in 1998 with 27,379 cases and 58 deaths – nobody really knew which Minister was truly responsible for the anti-dengue counter measures to save lives and minimize human suffering – and this tragedy continues as the dengue outbreak rampages unabated.
On 13th December in Johore Bahru, Chua made a statement whose message was very clear – that it was Ong Ka Ting as Minister for Housing and Local Government who was more responsible for the dengue outbreak.
Chua revealed that the Cabinet recently instructed the Local Government Ministry “to take all the primary prevention efforts” as 72 per cent of dengue cases occurred in areas under the jurisdiction of local authorities while only 28 per cent of the dengue-affected areas were under the responsibility of the Health Ministry or outside the jurisdiction of the local authorities.
Does this mean that the Housing and Local Government must bear 72% of the dengue cases, deaths and outbreak while the Health Ministry need only bear 28% responsibility?
The families of the over 40 dengue fatalities in the last six months are entitled to sue both the Health Ministry and the Housing and local Government Ministry for compensation over the government negligence in failing to launch a nation-wide dengue alert despite the World Health Organisation (WHO) warning last July of a dengue epidemic which could have saved lives or reduced deaths.
DAP is prepared to form a special dengue victims legal bureau to advise the bereaved families their legal rights and those interested can seek the help of DAP leaders, DAP elected representatives or DAP lawyers to contact the DAP Dengue Victims Legal Bureau.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman