Stop blaming outsiders for disease outbreaks, says Sarawak activist

Sarawak human rights activist Peter John Jaban says the government must ensure that the country’s health quality is improved. (Facebook pic)

KUCHING: Sarawak human rights activist Peter John Jaban has hit out at the health ministry for being quick to blame “outside” factors as the cause of disease outbreaks in the country.

He said the way the ministry had handled health crises raised questions about the ability of its staff, especially in terms of investigating, disseminating information and readiness to deal with disease outbreaks.

“If there were to be a pandemic of any kind, would the ministry have the capacity to combat it? They seem to have no ability to track diseases, especially in the rural areas, and simply no facility to combat them.

“While there is a vaccination programme for polio, the lack of any real response to the threat of rabies in Sarawak calls into question their ability to react to any future pandemic,” he said in a statement here today.

Saying Health Minister Dzukefly Ahmad had been quick to blame “foreigners” or “outsiders” for these problems, Jaban claimed he had failed to look into the ministry’s role in ensuring the country’s health quality was improved.

Regarding the polio outbreak in Sabah, he said Dzukefly’s statement was mere speculation.

Dzulkefly had said that there were two possibilities for the polio virus reappearing after 27 years: it could have its origins in the southern Philippines or the infant’s family might have travelled abroad.

However, he said, initial investigations showed the infant’s family members did not travel overseas.

“So, in most likelihood the virus came from outside Sabah as the family has no travel history. It could have been brought in by an outsider coming to Sabah,” he had said.

Jaban said Dzulkefly had used the same excuse after 20 people died following a rabies epidemic in Sarawak last year when he said the disease had originated from Indonesia’s West Kalimantan.

He rubbished such a claim as rabies had been widespread in the animal population of Sarawak before the outbreak was declared.

“Following the rabies outbreak in Sarawak, there have been no moves to vaccinate the population. Instead, residents have to wait to be bitten first before any action is taken.

“Even for private patients, the vaccine is often simply ‘out of stock.’ Why isn’t the ministry making sure that sufficient stocks are available?” he asked.

Jaban also said many rural folk had to travel far to receive treatment from clinics that were also troubled by the lack of manpower and facilities.

At the same time, he noted that thousands of stateless persons in both Borneo states were not getting access to healthcare services.

“How many people are simply dying in their kampungs before these diseases are even diagnosed? This is why healthcare should be equally available to all who live within Malaysia.

“Diseases do not respect borders and they don’t choose whether the person has a Mykad or not,” he said.