Kuala Koh Orang Asli deaths a tragic lesson to anti-vaxxers, says ex-health minister

Members of the Batek tribe wear face masks at their settlement in Kuala Koh June 14, 2019. — Bernama pic
Members of the Batek tribe wear face masks at their settlement in Kuala Koh June 14, 2019. — Bernama pic

KUALA LUMPUR, June 18 — The deaths of several Orang Asli from the Batek tribe in Kelantan should serve as a lesson to those objecting to vaccinations, former health minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said.

The former Segamat MP said that measles could have weakened the Batek tribe members’ immune system, and caused a reactivation of latent pathogens which were lying dormant in their bodies.

“Despite this, there are still some, either due to ignorance, laziness or differing beliefs who do not immunise themselves.

“While to some, not immunising might be seen as a exercise of personal freedom, the Kg Koh incident has shown how tragic it could be to others,” he wrote on his Facebook page, saying that the incident “has taken a very unfortunate and serious turn”.

The medical practitioner weighed in on the statement by his successor Datuk Seri Dzulkefly Ahmad yesterday, in which the cause of the deaths was attributed to a measles outbreak, adding that the illness is often only self-limiting, requiring only supportive treatment for otherwise healthy individuals.

Dr Subramaniam also raised questions as to how the Orang Asli in Kampung Koh could have contracted the illness, suspecting that they may have come into close contact from an “outsider”.

“Where did they get the measles from? The first person to get the disease probably got it from an outsider during the period of infectivity of the disease.

“That outsider did not have immunity against the virus, probably because he was not fully immunised,” he added.

To create better awareness of vaccinations and to avoid such tragedy, from recurring Dr Subramaniam also suggested that all school-going children be immunised, pointing out that with the advancement of medical treatments today, people should not be succumbing to an illness like measles.

“The other alternative which we have discussed before is to require all children enrolling into schools to be immunised. These are difficult issues but in the wake of the Kampung Koh tragedy, it is important that we revisit them. In today’s day and time so many Malaysians should not die of measles!” he added.

According to the Health Ministry yesterday, the mystery ailment afflicting dozens of the Batek Orang Asli in Kelantan, has turned out to be measles.

Minister Dzulkefly yesterday announced that Health Ministry laboratory results as of June 15 confirmed that 37 people from the same Gua Musang village tested positive for the illness.

The minister attributed the relatively low immunisation rate among the Batek Orang Asli in the area to their nomadic lifestyle.

He said his ministry has dealt with 112 measles cases in the village since early June with official deaths at three so far, though it believes the other 15 fatalities may be related.