KUALA LUMPUR, June 14 — A doctors’ group questioned today how the immunity of the Bateq tribe became so poor that 14 Orang Asli died from an infection.
Dr Steven Chow — president of the Federation of Private Medical Practitioners Association of Malaysia (FPMPAM) that runs a “Drs for All” programme to provide medical services for the Orang Asli — said the infection in Kampung Kuala Koh, Gua Musang, whose cause has yet to be determined, was not simply an airborne disease.
“Certainly the terminal event could be pneumonia, a fulminating infection of the lungs due to poor immunity.
“The basic question to be addressed is why has the immunological status of this community (‘herd immunity’) fallen to this level? What were the possible other reasons beside prolonged malnutrition?” Dr Chow told CodeBlue.
“Now that we hear that there is mining activity in the vicinity, of course one has to investigate pollution of their water supply instead of just ruling it out,” he added.
Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad ruled out last Tuesday chemical poisoning as a cause of death for two Orang Asli from Kuala Koh whose deaths were confirmed to result from pneumonia.
He said their X-rays showed that they likely suffered from a viral respiratory infection with secondary bacteria.
Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said earlier today that the Department of Environment’s (DOE) analysis of water at a manganese mine in Kuala Koh on June 12 revealed that the water quality was up to standard for raw water.
DOE’s investigation, she said, also confirmed that no waste was produced by the manganese mine in Aring 10, 3km from the Kuala Koh Orang Asli village.
Dr Chow stressed today that post-mortems needed to be conducted on the remaining 12 of the 14 members of the Bateq tribe who died in recent weeks. Authorities have located eight bodies as of yesterday.
“In addition, there should also be investigations involving the environment protection / safety and social protection agencies. How did these people fall through the social safety net?
“The area is not totally inaccessible. Lots of money was supposed to have been spent over the past 60 years to improve living conditions and to provide basic facilities for the indigenous communities,” he said.
He said when “Drs for All” visited the Bateq tribe in Kuala Koh last April, doctors found they lived in “appalling” conditions.
“There was no proper water supply. The medical team and volunteers didn’t even have water to clean their hands. The blue water tanks that stood so majestically in the village were all empty. Almost all the children had signs and symptoms of chronic malnutrition. Sanitation was bad,” said Dr Chow.
“The patients were mainly women and children, many who had multiple problems. In addition to signs of chronic malnutrition, the most common were skin infections, worm infestations, gastrointestinal infections and respiratory tract infections.”
He said the village in Kelantan, which is governed by PAS, lacked basic medical care, safe and potable water supply, and food.
“There is reasonable road access to this village and we see no reason why these other basic facilities should be lacking.”
Dr Chow observed that there was a Klinik Kesihatan in the vicinity of the village, but it looked like it had not been used for a long time.
“We had to clean up the dirt, dust and cobwebs before using it for our medical clinic that day. There was just one small bucket of water in the toilet of the clinic.”
According to some studies, members of the Bateq tribe are nomadic hunter-gatherers who live in the tropical rainforests of the peninsula.