Chemical poisoning ruled out in Orang Asli deaths

Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad.

PUTRAJAYA: Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad today ruled out chemical poisoning as causing the death of two Orang Asli and infecting another 99 at the Kampung Koh Orang Asli settlement in Gua Musang, Kelantan, saying their symptoms point to upper respiratory infection.

“It is safe to say it was acute pneumonia. (Their infection) is not because of chemicals. This is according to the chest X-rays,” he told reporters here.

He said the ministry was waiting for test results to confirm the source of the microorganisms.

Dzulkefly said the village, with 190 residents, had been quarantined and was being screened for any infection.
Of the 99 villagers affected, three are in the intensive care unit, he said.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department P Waytha Moorthy confirmed on Sunday that 14 Orang Asli villagers had died.

Dzulkefly said the results of the post mortem on the initial two bodies showed they were infected by microorganisms.

“If it is chemical (poisioning), there will be patches in the X-ray,” he said, adding that the victims could have suffered “viral infection with secondary bacterial infection”.

He said children found with skin diseases could have been suffering from malnutrition problems.

“We are waiting for the results of an analysis of the water,” he said.

Dzulkefly said the police were limiting the number of outsiders entering the village and those allowed in were monitored closely.

He said there were some Orang Asli villagers who moved around the forest and lived normadic lives and they were also being screened for infection.

Yesterday, Dzulkefly said the ministry was prepared to perform forensic tests on another 12 bodies.

However, he said they would leave it to the police to exhume the bodies, which were buried according to the customary Bateq tribe funeral rites.

He added that the ministry had been facing difficulties locating the graves as they were said to be deep in the jungle.

It was reported that the 14 had died presumably from pneumonia over the past month.