Polio victim comes from migrant settlement, say neighbours

Kampung Damat in Tamparuli, where a migrant settlement has reported Malaysia’s first polio case in three decades.

KOTA KINABALU: The boy who recently contracted polio comes from a migrant settlement inside a village in the town of Tamparuli, according to local residents who said they got the information from health officials.

Tamparuli lies in the district of Tuaran, northeast of Kota Kinabalu, and the village hosting the migrant settlement is Kampung Damat. The settlement is called Kampung Baru by the residents.

Reporters overheard a health officer telling Kampung Damat residents not to pinpoint to the media the home of the three-month-old polio patient.

“We don’t want the reporters to come around and harass the patient’s family,” she said, adding that Sabah Health Director Christina Rundi had told her to give the instruction.

“Just yesterday, there was a piece of fake news saying the infant has already died.”

The baby is being treated in a hospital’s isolation ward. He is said to be in stable condition but in need of respiratory support.

A health officer pastes a poster on polio at a sundry shop in Kampung Damat.

The World Health Organisation has confirmed that the polio virus he contracted is of the same type that has been spreading in the southern Philippines since last September.

It is the first reported polio case in Malaysia since the country was declared free of the disease 27 years ago.

A health official who identified herself only as Agnes told FMT she and her colleagues had been on the ground screening for polio infections since the baby was first suspected of having contracted the disease.

“We have taken faeces samples from the victim’s family members and they are now being analysed,” she said as she proceeded to paste polio-prevention posters on the walls of sundry shops.

Yesterday, Rundi said her department was checking for acute flaccid paralysis and that 646 individuals had undergone the checks.

A resident of Kampung Damat, Saimin Samitah, told FMT the Kampung Baru settlement emerged about 10 years ago and the residents came from the notorious Kampung Pondo of Pulau Gaya.

Kampung Pondo was declared illegal in 2006 and authorities demolished the village because the residents were suspected to be involved in criminal activities. They were resettled in some parts of Inanam and in Kampung Damat, Saimin said.

He said some of the settlers were working as doctors, teachers and civil servants.

A dilapidated house in front of Kampung Baru within Kampung Damat in Tamparuli. Locals say many of the migrant settlers in the area prefer not to mingle with Kampung Damat folks.

Saimin spoke of a former teacher in government service who was jailed in 2017 for holding a fake MyKad, saying he was a settler in Kampung Baru. The man, Asni Ismail, had been teaching for 10 years before he was charged in a Kota Kinabalu court.

Saimin also said most Kampung Baru residents kept to themselves, rarely joining in village activities organised by the Kampung Damat folk.

He said he had noticed migrants moving in and out of the settlement over the years.

“Maybe some of them had just arrived in Sabah from the Philippines, where the polio outbreak had been detected,” he added.

Another Kampung Damat resident, Rozairi Hashim, said villagers were denied a proper sewage system.

“Although all of us are supplied with treated water, many house owners have to dig up pits to manage their bodily wastes,” he said.

He also said he was baffled by the health ministry’s claim that many children in the area are not immunised.

He noted that the closest medical facility is only five minutes away in Tamparuli town.

He alleged that the ministry was probably playing politics to justify a massive immunisation exercise.

Two years ago, there was a robust debate on immunisation, with some parents rejecting immunisation programmes for fear the vaccines used might be infringing religious taboos.