PETALING JAYA: It may be some time before the government releases the results of post-mortem examinations on 12 Orang Asli residents of Kampung Kuala Koh who died last month, allegedly of measles.
Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye told FMT his ministry was still waiting for the results of toxicology tests.
“When it comes to the physical aspects of a post-mortem, we can get the results in 24 hours,” he said. “But the toxicology tests, which involve looking at tissue, bone or blood samples, take longer. The results could take more than a month to come in.”
He said the government wasn’t trying to hide anything.
The ministry has maintained that the deaths were due to measles, but some quarters have questioned the conclusion.
Last Thursday, in asking for the release of post-mortem results, the Federation of Private Medical Practitioners’ Associations Malaysia (FPMPAM) said it suspected that measles was not the sole reason for the deaths.
Its president, Dr Steven Chow, claimed his group found higher-than-normal levels of manganese in water samples taken from a source used by Kuala Koh villagers.
Lee said his ministry’s screening of villagers did not indicate any symptom of manganese poisoning, such as abnormal behaviour or movements.
He said there was no doubt that Kuala Koh experienced a measles outbreak.
He also referred to investigations by the energy, science, technology, environment and climate change ministry, saying it took water samples and didn’t find any chemical at a level beyond the safety limit.
He advised FPMPAM to lodge a report with the ministry if it believed the village’s water source was contaminated.
He added that his ministry would get in touch with FPMPAM to investigate its concerns.
Dr Looi Hoong Wah, a fellow of the Academy of Medicine of Malaysia, said manganese poisoning was unlikely.
Speaking in his personal capacity, he said manganese poisoning would occur only in a person who had been exposed to high concentrations of the chemical over a “very long time”.
Following the measles outbreak, an illegal manganese mine close to the village was shut down, but tests by the chemistry department ruled out heavy metal or chemical poisoning.
Some NGOs have accused the department of drawing samples from a different water source, an allegation the department has denied.
An environmental activist yesterday called for an inquest into the Kuala Koh deaths.
Shariffa Sabrina Akil, president of Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam Malaysia, told FMT she believed that the water contamination reports and the “absence of conclusive findings from the post-mortems” made an inquest necessary.
She alleged that the health ministry failed to immunise the villagers thoroughly and the Kelantan government did not act against illegal mining.
“These are compelling reasons for an inquest to be held,” she said.