On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Using JE issue to breed distrust

The villagers, predominantly of  the Foochow community, knew  each other well and many had continued with
their family business  of pig

But things have changed since  the
outbreak of the deadly viral 
disease  Japanese

Like their neighbours in Kampung Sawah and Kampung Pelanduk, Sungai Nipah
villagers depended on pig farming for their 

As more victims of the JE died,  the
Cabinet stepped in to find solutions.

The job will not be an easy one, 
particularly for Health Minister 
Datuk Chua Jui Meng.

After all, we are dealing with human lives and the rice bowl of the  community.

There are two important factors  here.
First, lives must be saved  and the
killer virus must be  stopped fast.

The first death caused by the JE  was in
Perak in October 1997 and  the problem
does not appear to  have ended.

The JE is not something new,  that is the
sad part. Veterinary and  health
authorities have been conducting research on the disease as  far back as 1953.

We are now told there may be a  second
virus about which we have  little

The setting up of the Cabinet  task force
means a concerted action has been taken.

The strategy involves destroying the animals with the help of the  army and police; intensifying fogging to get
rid of the vector Culex  mosquito;
vaccinating the farmers  and people
living within a 2km radius of affected areas; and treating  all JE patients in one special ward  in government hospitals with specialist

The outbreak could not have  come at a
worse time as the country's economy has yet to fully recover. The industry,
which is  worth about RM2bil, has been

This is not the time to point fingers but to find solutions. No one  should use the JE issue for selfish  political reasons.

There is nothing more sinful  than to
politicise the issue to score  political
gains. Those who do are  merely riding on
the miseries of  the victims.

Politicians who merely issue  press
statements and make visits  to these
villages to incite anger are  not helping
the victims.

We need people who can handle  the task
and help put the farmers  back on their

It must be insane for anyone to  even
imagine that the Government  is
unconcerned about the JE problem.

There should be no racial or political considerations in handling  this problem which has, in all intents and
purposes, become a national tragedy.

It speaks well for Malaysia that  the
rearing of pigs has never been  an issue
and it should be kept that  way.

The pig farmers must understand the need to start afresh. That  means the animals suspected to be  infected have to be destroyed and  the carcasses disposed of in a hygienic

There must be proper waste disposal management as it is an important aspect of
preventing any  disease outbreak.

Every measure must now be taken to confine the disease to Negri  Sembilan. It must not be allowed to  become a nationwide epidemic.

More importantly, the industry  must be
saved. Our pig farmers  must modernise
their animal husbandry practices and go for centralised and integrated

When all this is over, the authorities should organise trips for  these farmers to Taiwan and Japan  to study the modern farming  methods there.

To help these farmers go  through this
rough patch, there is a  need to initiate
some form of self help programmes, including credit  facility to get the industry going  again.

These farmers would need to  pay off
their debts and to acquire  the necessary
capital to restart  their business.

The MCA, Federation of Chinese 
Associations Malaysia, Associated 
Chinese Chamber of Commerce  and
Industry, Selangor Chinese  Assembly Hall
and the Federation  of Livestock Farmers
Associations  must now be seen to
spearhead  help programmes for the
victims  and their families.

But we must also not forget the  consumer
end. Malaysians must  have access to
accurate information about the disease.

That means the Health Ministry  must be
open and available to the  media. The
media, on their part,  must refrain from
publishing unsubstantiated reports which may 
give rise to rumours.

There is also the educational aspect. Efforts must be made to inform Malaysians
about the correct  and effective
preventive measures  to take to check

This episode should also serve as  a
lesson, especially to the authorities, on the need to be firm and decisive in
dealing with such situations.

The Veterinary Services Department plays a key role in this area,  particularly the movement of animals. There
is obviously a need for  better

The nation has gone through  such episodes
before, although  probably not of such
magnitude  where human lives are at

It is better to be unpopular by  making
firm decisions in the interest of the country and the people.