We have learnt that hospital staff in Lawas were instructed by the local YB, Awang Tenggah (Taib’s favoured side-kick), to keep quiet about an outbreak of Dengue Fever last month.
The extraordinary intervention occurred at an emergency meeting at the hospital during the week before the Lawas Festival, after several cases had been reported in the area.
Tengah, an Environment and Planning Minister, sent a representative to the meeting and instructed staff to keep the local epidemic quiet, because the minister did not want people to be scared away from the Pesta Lawas Festival at the end of May.
Normally, the situation would be made public, so that people would be aware about the outbreak and be able to take precautions to avoid mosquitos and fumigate breeding areas. However, Tengah did not want outsiders to stay away from the festivities!
Pesta Lawas more important than safety?
People with children and the elderly have a right to ask questions about this selfishness on the part of their own YB.
Malaysia has a high level of fatalities from this disease, compared to neighbouring countries and much depends on the quality of control measures put in place when cases break out.
According to an Academy of Medicine in Malaysia report, 4.67% of cases result in fatalities in Malaysia, whereas in Thailand and Indonesia it is only 0.3% and 0.5% respectively.
The shocking, but little reported fact is that every week hundreds of people die in Malaysia from this vicious virus, which is on the increase world wide. Last week the toll was 400, of which 11 people died in Sarawak. Twenty-two people died in the state the week before that.
With no vaccine cure in place, the only proper response is preventative measures and the quarantine of sick people. Once a person has been infected by a mosquito, their blood becomes a breeding ground for the disease for about eight days. It is important they are not bitten again by more uninfected mosquitos during that period, which could then pass on the disease.
So, it is clearly very important that when an outbreak has occurred in a locality that inhabitants should be told about the problem and that potential incomers should be warned they are entering an infected area.
We challenge Tengah’s right to suppress such information!
Time for more public health information?
It appears that many people are still uninformed in Sarawak about the nature of the disease and how to recognise its symptoms.
This adds to the danger and the likelihood that people will present late at the hospital, resulting in further unnecessary deaths.
Surely, if people have wider education and are properly alerted to outbreaks in the vicinity, then it if more likely they will recognise symptoms immediately and go straight to hospital?
This is clearly especially important for small children, who often can’t express how ill they are and who are particularly at risk.
The symptoms begin with a sudden very high temperature around 4 days after the infecting mosquito bite and there is also considerable pain in the joints. The disease reaches a new level of seriousness if it moves into what is known as the hemorrhagic stage with internal bleeding.
This will display itself in rashes and distressing lesions and bleeding.
Party politics before health of the people?
Senior members of the community in Lawas are now questioning why the local YB would have considered interfering with the medical authorities in the normal process of dealing with the disease?
The local epidemic broke out in Tengah’s own home village of Kuala Lawas and now numbers 25 cases.
Yet, even though his own people needed warning of the situation to better protect themselves from infection, it seems his main priority was to get good numbers coming to the new festival event that he had organised for the 27th/28th May.
The first Pesta Lawas, organised by Tenggah, was held last year, just before the State Elections. Many have speculated that the planning of this one for May was linked to the expectation that the Federal Elections would be in June!
If so, it appears that Awang Tenggah wanted to make sure his opportunity to curry favour with constituents went ahead with maximum attendance, even though there were possible health risks involved.
Several sources from within Lawas hospital have now told Sarawak Report and the community radio show, Radio Free Sarawak that Tengah sent a representative to the hospital meeting about how to handle the case:
“Please don’t announce this to the public, because it will scare everyone away from Pesta Lawas” The representative is reported to have said at the meeting held at Lawas General Hospital, where 8 people had already been admitted with the disease.
Shocked medical staff are believed to have acceded to the local political bigwig’s request. After all Tengah is known to be one of the politicians closest to the Chief Minister, Taib Mahmud.
Delay in notifying the health authorities?
However, it is still not known if the request also resulted in any delay in notifying the Ministry of Health.
Since the 1970s, Dengue Fever has been a notifiable disease in Malaysia, which means that the Ministry must be told of any outbreak within 24 hours, in order for appropriate steps to be taken.
If Tengah’s intervention resulted in any such delay the outrage becomes even more serious.
Even so, people will wonder why such a serious health situation that demands preventative action should have been hidden from them for purely political reasons by a local politician?
Sarawak Report asks what right does a political figure ever have to interfere in the decisions of medical staff and why ever should people’s health and safety be put at risk for a benefit of a politician’s party plans?