Editorial Notes

Concern over rash of health hazards in Malaysia: The Star

The Star expresses concern over the surge in waterborne and foodborne diseases in the country.
The Star expresses concern over the surge in waterborne and foodborne diseases in the country.PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

In its editorial on Oct 10, 2015, The Star expresses concern over the surge in waterborne and foodborne diseases in the country.

Talk about mixed feelings. On Monday (Oct 19), the Health Ministry issued a three-page statement to provide details of the current increase in typhoid fever cases in Kuala Lumpur. It was a move meant to raise awareness without causing panic.

That is reasonable, of course. This is a public health matter that can turn deadly, and people should be kept informed so that they can take precautions and act rationally.

And yet, we cannot help but be concerned about the numbers and the fact that the authorities do not have an explanation for the surge in the waterborne and foodborne diseases.

And what about the rest of the country? Is there a larger problem here that needs more attention?

It is impossible not to have such questions in our heads.

As it is, we are already grappling with the persistent rise in dengue cases; the worry that the haze brings long-term effects on our health; the recent rabies outbreak in Penang, Kedah and Perlis; and the return of tuberculosis (TB) as a growing threat in Malaysia.

And now there is an alert on typhoid fever, with over 30 cases reported in Kuala Lumpur in less than three months.

According to the ministry, seven construction workers living in Cheras and working near the city centre were the first to be diagnosed with the infectious disease.

The Kuala Lumpur Health Department was notified in the first week of August. Ten people who had been in contact with the seven patients were examined and two tested positive.

Between then and last Sunday, several public and private hospitals in Kuala Lumpur have informed the authorities of other cases of typhoid fever, bringing the tally to 32. There have been no deaths so far.

Health Ministry director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah said, in the Monday statement, that cases of typhoid fever were not unusual in Kuala Lumpur. The annual figures over the last five years ranged from five to 35.

Presumably, that information was meant to allay fears.

But it is hard to ignore that the present rash of cases is almost as many as the highest total over an entire year.

It does not help that the department has yet to identify the source of the infections.

Datuk Noor Hisham said this was because there were no similarities to link the cases.

Hopefully, there will be a breakthrough soon.

The ministry has given an assurance that it is working hard to put in place preventive and control measures to curb the spread of the disease.

This is a time for great diligence and vigilance.

Beyond zeroing in on the origin of the latest cases, the ministry should also figure out the weaknesses in the systems that have contributed to the spike.

For example, is the health screening of foreign workers adequate in detecting carriers of the bacteria that cause typhoid fever? Or is this another hazard associated with the influx of illegal immigrants?

In Malaysia, food handlers are required to go for anti-typhoid vaccination. How well is this adhered to and enforced?

The same question applies to the law on reporting infectious diseases - typhoid fever is one of them - to the health authorities.

Safeguarding public health is a huge responsibility.

The Health Ministry has a lead role in this, but clearly, we all have a part to play.

Prevention is better than cure, but it only works if everybody backs the preventive action.

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