Cause of death of Orang Asli still unconfirmed, says health ministry

Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad visits several Orang Asli from Kampung Kuala Koh who are undergoing treatment at the Gua Musang hospital.

PETALING JAYA: The health ministry today said it is still unable to identify the cause of death of a group of Orang Asli in Kelantan although it is not ruling out the possibility of a viral infection.

Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad said the investigation would continue with serology tests and PCRs.

“It is likely that the deaths were caused by bacteria and a viral secondary infection,” he told reporters after visiting several Orang Asli who are being treated at the Gua Musang hospital.

He added that the lung disease faced by the Orang Asli community there had existed for a long time and was likely due to the fact that they lived nearby the mining site.

He also denied that the deaths were due to tuberculosis and leptospirosis, as previously reported.

He said two deaths have been confirmed by his ministry so far through post-mortems.

The energy, science, technology, environment and climate change ministry has also taken several samples, including from water in the area, for further study.

Dzulkefly said his ministry had been alerted a month ago about the situation at Kampung Kuala Koh, but that his staff could not meet with members of the community as they were always on the move.

“Our team went there in early May, but we couldn’t meet them,” he added.

Kelantan health department director Dr Zaini Hussin said the disease could be transmitted through respiration, and that outsiders had been restricted from entering the village.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department P Waytha Moorthy previously said 14 Orang Asli villagers from Kampung Kuala Koh in Gua Musang had died from an illness, believed to be pneumonia.

He said the health ministry had set up a task force to coordinate efforts between various government agencies to control the spread of the infection among the Orang Asli.