PETALING JAYA: Putrajaya has been accused of inaction over its investigation into the deaths of several Orang Asli members of the Batek tribe in Kampung Koh, Kelantan, which it said were caused by measles.
A special report in Britain’s The Guardian yesterday said while the health ministry blamed the deaths of 15 members of the tribe on a measles outbreak, advocates for the Orang Asli were scathing of the claim.
It said they believed environmental factors – as well as rampant neglect and malnutrition – led to the community being ravaged by disease.
“A full government investigation was pledged, including autopsies of bodies that could be recovered from the jungle where they had been given traditional burials.
“Yet, four months later, nothing has materialised.
“It is the latest never-fulfilled promise to be made to the Batek people since their jungle home began to be torn down over a decade ago to make way for palm oil plantations and, more recently, manganese mines – stripping them of their way of life and autonomy,” the report said.
The Guardian said it was told by Faizul Nizam Abu Salim, a special officer to the director-general of health, that “investigations and proceedings” were ongoing.
However, it quoted Dr Steven Chow, president of the Federation of Private Medical Practitioners’ Associations Malaysia (FPMPAM), as saying “the government has promised us a report and an investigation, but so far nothing”.
Chow told the news site the detrimental health effects of manganese were amplified tenfold for the Batek, whose immune systems were already compromised from chronic malnutrition.
“Based on our research and the pattern of deaths, there was an outside environmental factor of either poisoning by another chemical, another pollutant or an extremely high level of manganese from the mine that was at least partially responsible for this spate of deaths,” he was quoted as saying.
Chow dismissed the government’s claim that an outbreak of measles had caused the deaths.
“I think the government wants to bury this matter and move on. There should be accountability for these deaths that goes right to the top but I doubt it will ever happen,” he was quoted as saying.
The report also quoted Johan Halid of Sahabat Jariah as saying the Batek community had been neglected for years
“Without the jungle, they have nothing, and without access to power and schools there is also no way for them to integrate into society. If we did not bring them food, they would not survive. It is as simple as that.”
According to the report, Johan had attempted to get the authorities to send medical help to the community in early May, when several fell ill.
For weeks, the report said, his calls were ignored and it was not until his social media post that went viral on June 4 that the health authorities sent a van to take them to hospital.