Chua Soi Lek should take the Health Ministry into the information age by breaking away from the past secrecy syndrome and post the latest weekly updates of dengue cases and deaths on the Health Ministry website for public information to demonstrate real government seriousness in the war against dengue
by Lim Kit Siang
(Parliament, Monday): The Health Minister, Datuk Chua Soi Lek should take the Health Ministry into the information age by breaking away from the past secrecy syndrome and post the latest weekly updates of dengue cases and deaths on the Health Ministry website for public information to demonstrate real government seriousness in the war against dengue.
Following Chua’s Friday warning of an impending dengue fever outbreak, the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who is also Chairman of the Cabinet Committee on national health and safety, yesterday called on the authorities and the public to take a holistic approach to stop the spread of dengue fever “which is getting more serious” as the number of cases had jumped to 1,000 a week.
The government itself must set the example of a “holistic approach”, which it has signally itself failed to do or the dengue threat would not have reached the serious level of 1,000 cases a week.
During the previous dengue epidemic, the then Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng sought to rebut DAP allegations of the seriousness of the outbreak and told Parliament on 11th March 2003 that “Di Malaysia, sejak tahun 1997 sehingga 2002 purata kes dengi (demam denggi dan deman denggi berdarah) setahun adalah 8,364 kes dan kematian sebanyak 54 kes”.
This works to an average of 160 dengue cases per week in the six years from 1997 – 2002.
It does not reflect positively on the efficiency, capability and vigilance of the Health Ministry that it has not sounded the dengue alarm and alert earlier, although in the past three months, the number of dengue cases have shot up to the present 1,000 cases a week, which is six times the weekly average for the six years from 1997-2002.
In this connection, I fully agree with non-government organizations that the Health Ministry had been caught napping by the dengue outbreak, and should have issued the dengue alert earlier – and Chua’s outburst against the NGOs for this reprimand is most unwarranted.
The Health Ministry is not solely at fault, for the Local Government and Housing Ministry, with overall responsibility for the local government authorities, and the various State Governments must also bear equal responsibility for the worsening of the dengue outbreak, failing not only to keep the environment aedes mosquites-free, but in conveying the dengue alert to the public at the first available opportunity.
In actual fact, the Health Ministry itself has yet to demonstrate its full seriousness about the Health Minister’s dengue warning. I have been visiting the Health Ministry website for the past three days since Chua’s dengue warning, but there has been nothing on it about the dengue alert – raising the question as to how the country could be on dengue alert when the Health Ministry itself is not yet on dengue alert!
The first step to demonstrate the Health Ministry’s seriousness about the dengue alert is for the Health Ministry to stop being a “cobwebsite” and feature a special item on its website on the dengue menace, giving not only all the relevant information about the preventive measures that should be taken by the public, but even more important, providing the latest update information on a weekly basis of the number of dengue cases and death, state-by-state and even hotspot-by-hotspot.
For a start, Chua should make public the statistics of the dengue cases and deaths for last year and the previous two years, on a state-by-state and month-by-month basis, which will be the first signal that the Health Ministry has begun to enter the information age and is serious in wanting to get public support and involvement in the fight against preventable diseases.
* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman