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HFM: Conflicting statements = more panic
By Kapal Berita

17/10/2000 8:00 am Tue


Harap maaf kerana agak malas hendak menterjemahkan rencana dibawah ini. Apa yang terserlah dari bala penyakit HFM ini ialah yang mengurusnya terlalu "memandai" dan terlalu banyak tangan. Ia juga bermakna media gagal berfungsi dengan baik. Kita perlu memikirkan siapakah yang sewajarnya perlu dijaga - nyawa kanak-kanak atau "nyawa" menteri? Nyawa kanak2 tidak ada gantinya - tetapi "nyawa" menteri yang membaiki labu ini tidak berguna. Dia hanya berfungsi mengejar kerjaya dan undi parti sahaja. Kata orang tua-tua, melepaskan batuk aje ditangga....

HFM: Conflicting statements causing more panic file D/2000/10/15/nation/15jzsund&sec Dna tion

Sunday, October 15, 2000
Sunday Star says...

Conflicting statements causing more panic

THERE appears to be some uncertainty and lack of focus and coordination in the handling of the hand, foot and mouth (HFM) disease outbreak.

Did we say outbreak? The Johor Health Department on Thursday said it was. And so the media gave prominence to the story with the intention to tell people to take precautions.

At that point, the public needed answers and not just mere assurances.

The next morning Deputy Director-General of Health Datuk Dr Mohamad Taha Arif said it was not an outbreak as the number of cases was not high and were mild ones.

Asked what would constitute an outbreak, he said there was no past data which could be used as a guide.

In any case, he said, only the Health Minister was empowered to declare an outbreak.

But at the same time, he announced that the ministry was activating its crisis management centre to monitor the situation. If the situation was not serious why open the centre?

Then, National Unity and Social Development Minister Datuk Dr Siti Zaharah Sulaiman made an announcement that did not seem to be in tune with what the health authorities had said.

She ordered all the ministry's 2,000-plus kindergartens and daycare centres to close until further notice.

However, that night, Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Jui Meng reiterated that it was not an outbreak. People, he said, should not panic as the situation was under control.

Obviously, the public were confused. The next morning, The Star's office was flooded with queries from readers asking what the real HFM situation was and what they should do.

If the media cannot get proper answers, how much less the ordinary people.

If we have learned anything from a previous similar incident that occurred in Sarawak three years ago, the authorities should by now have everything in place to face an increasingly skeptical public, more so since three children have died.

In a crisis, if we may call it a crisis, one important principle is to have all the facts. Then there will be consistency. No one will be speaking out of turn and the people will truly feel reassured.

That's all the people want--to be given the facts of the situation and to know what to do. NST/Sunday/Editorial/20001015075308/sun_artrevamp

Analysis: Accurate and vital information on HFM disease a service to public

By Abdul Razak Ahmad

15 October 2000

THERE is poor co-ordination between varying levels of authority responsible for handling the spate of Hand, Foot and Mouth (HFM) disease cases.

This can be seen in the many contradictory statements issued this week alone:

  1. - On Thursday, press reports cited Johor Health director Dr Prathapa Senan as declaring that the HFM disease had reached "outbreak" level in Johor.

  2. - On Friday, the declaration was withdrawn by the deputy director-general of Health Datuk Dr Mohd Taha Arif. He claimed that the "error" stemmed from "miscommunication" in relaying information to the Press the previous day.

  3. - Also on Friday, National Unity and Social Development Minister Datuk Dr Siti Zaharah Sulaiman directed the over 3,000 nurseries and kindergratens under her Ministry's ambit nationwide to close temporarily, in light of increasing cases.

  4. - The next day, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi withdrew Siti Zaharah's directive.

    All the officials who have issued statements on the matter stress that it is important not to cause unnecessary panic among worried parents.

    But the lack of co-ordination which has resulted in these contradictory public remarks is a source of much confusion.

    And the confusion is not without basis.

    A parent wrote in to this newspaper to recount how she had contacted a Health Ministry official to ask whether any severe cases had cropped up in the Klang Valley. She was told that there was none.

    The next day, newspapers front-paged stories on the first Klang Valley fatality of the HFM disease. The parent is understandably irate.

    The Ministry's website on HFM ( reminds parents of children who display symptoms not to send them to nurseries, kindergartens and schools.

    How many worried parents would place their trust in the hygiene measures which nurseries, kindergartens and schools undertake _ compared to keeping the children at home and minimising the risk of infection even further?

    And how does a closure directive for kindergartens and child care centres in Johor Baru affect kindergartens located just outside the State capital's borders? Should they safely remain open, although they are just a stone's throw away from Johor Baru?

    Do we, as another letter-writer to this newspaper suggests, take efforts to screen incoming children from Singapore, which has seen a high number of HFM cases since early this month?

    And if the HFM disease is endemic, has it passed beyond the level of endemic into outbreak, or worse, epidemic?

    Such hair-splitting concerns are bound to anger the authorities, who will accuse the media of sensationalism and picking on faults.

    But these are real concerns, and they are minor _ compared to a parent's worry for his or her child.

    So these concerns must be addressed.

    The public must be continually provided with accurate and up-to-date data on the number of new daily cases in all States.

    They must be given information on the framework for action if the number of new cases increase beyond a certain level; they must be convinced that everything that can be done is being done.

    Kudos to the Health Ministry for the current mobilisation of medical staff in Johor, and in its initiative to set up a national crisis centre and hotlines in Kuala Lumpur and Johor baru, along with a web site to provide information on the disease.

    But the Ministry's delay in publicly disseminating vital information on the number of new cases and the median range for the disease, is worrying.

    If, as the usual argument insists, it is because these statistics can only be released on a "need to know basis", then wouldn't the collective concerns of hundreds of thousands of parents for the lives of their children qualify the Malaysian public's need to know?

    Were it not for the continuous enquiries made by the Press to the Universiti Malaya Medical Centre, which eventually resulted in the Press conference in which the hospital's one fatality was announced, many would still be cocooned in the false belief that there are no severe cases in the Klang Valley.

    Most statistics and daily tallies are culled by the Press from State level sources.

    This lack of centrally sourced data is also worrying because Malaysia has had a damaging past experience with the HFM disease in Sarawak in 1997, in which 31 children below five years of age died.

    However, as recently as March this year, no less than the Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Dr George Chan was quoted as saying that despite the 482 cases of Hand, Foot and Mouth diseases recorded in the State since January (compared with 65 the last year), it was not serious.

    Figures cited in April indicated that Malaysia reported 388 cases of the HFM disease last year, a normal range considering how tiny Singapore had 269 cases in the same period.

    But with Press reports on Saturday putting the tally of cases in Johor at 430 so far, this problem merits a more concerted effort from the authorities.