Vexing controversy over vaccination

SHOULD vaccination be compulsory?

That is the thorny question before Malaysians drawn into a controversy that should not have seen light of day.

The issue has snowballed into gargantuan proportions in the wake of the revelation that five children have died of diphtheria since January.

The fatalities come in the wake of startling statistics that show 1,500 people nationwide did not vaccinate their children last year with 500 from January to March only, ostensibly for religious or seemingly medical reasons.

Even with explanations from medical experts and the Department of Islamic Development (Jakim) allaying fears over the halal status of vaccines, detractors remain unconvinced.

Vaccination is a proven blanket effort to ensure the young do not fall prey to the dozen diseases that haunt them from birth.

It has been a time-tested method among Malaysians who bear the telltale signs of inoculation on their arms that has afforded them lifetime protection against these virulent diseases.

The debate over the merits of vaccination has narrowed down today to the question of legislation.

One would expect Health Ministry senior officials to be of one mind in the matter with the vote, of course, veering towards legislation.

What is surprising is that these officials, guardians of public health as it were, appear to be divided on the issue.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam wants a softer approach through education and engagement while deputy Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahaya holds the diametrically opposite view.

Dr Hilmi’s sentiments on Friday were quite clear when he said the ministry was looking at making vaccination compulsory.

In fact, he had added that the ministry would be engaging the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry to iron out issues related to the exercise.

Three days later, Dr Subramaniam shot down his deputy by saying vaccination would not be compulsory for now as ‘‘not all matters could be enforced by law”.

Former director-general of health and medical services, Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican, weighed in on the “aye” side of the debate with a timely reminder of the merits of vaccination.

The man-on-the-street can, therefore, be excused for being befuddled by these opposing views from medical practitioners-cum-politicians who appear to be on different sides of the equation on an important issue like vaccination.

Can we have a singular sentiment from the powers-that-be on whether legislation is, indeed, necessary to save children from diphtheria and measles and a host of other diseases?

Singapore, like a number of other countries, has made vaccination mandatory as an early effort towards ensuring public health.

Should Malaysia swing towards legislation when a consensus reached decades ago on vaccination may be breached by ‘‘homegrown” Internet doctors and a few with new-fangled religious conviction threatening to throw the spanner in the works?

That, indeed, is the question.

Report diseases, docs told

PETALING JAYA — Doctors and general practitioners must ensure all major diseases are reported to the health authorities no matter how remote their suspicions might be.

Negri Sembilan Health Department director Dr Abdul Rahim Abdullah said this when told of claims that his department’s chikungunya statistics of only two cases so far this year were inaccurate.

He said the alleged unreported cases made it all the more important for both public and private doctors to notify the health authorities on suspicion of diseases.

“By not reporting such cases we would be left in the dark. The reports form a crucial part of our surveillance efforts, especially since diseases like chikungunya come in clusters of families,” he told Malay Mail.

Failure in reporting could result in the doctor being found guilty under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988, which can result in fines, imprisonment or both.

Although chikungunya is not on the Act’s list of infectious diseases that must be reported, Dr Abdul Rahim urged them to report it nonetheless.

“If he or she is negligent in doing so, the doctor in question could also be brought before the Malaysian Medical Council for professional misconduct as well,” said Dr Abdul Rahim.

A 54-year-old Seremban teacher claimed she contracted chikungunya in April when her family went to Semenyih for Qing
Ming prayers.

“Five of us, including my mother, brother, his wife and my nephew, began to suffer from high fever on the same day,” she said.

“When we went to the first doctor at a private clinic, he sent us for dengue tests.”

Only her mother tested positive for dengue, which she was treated for and subsequently recovered.

However, the teacher and her four relatives suffered from a prolonged period of joint pains after the fever ended.

“Our test results revealed our blood platelet count dropped only slightly, unlike that of dengue patients. This both surprised and puzzled the doctor and lab testers at the private hospital. In the end, we were prescribed antibiotics,” she said.

Two weeks later, her maid contracted the same symptoms and the teacher consulted a second private doctor, where she was informed that it was most likely chikungunya.

“Even though he was not wholly sure himself, he eventually sent my maid for dengue test. Ironically, he began experiencing the same symptoms not long after, as did my regular pharmacist and his brother,” she said.

Several others also contracted the symptoms, including the mother of the teacher’s neighbour. She said the neighbour’s mother went to Singapore two months later to visit her son, where she was diagnosed by doctors there as having
chikungunya.

“Remember that none of us were ever tested for chikungunya. I do not even know what it is like or if there is one, having learned of the virus’ symptoms online. It’s been three months but we are still experiencing sore joints,” she said.

The virus brought about new pains and aggravated existing ones, such as the worsening of a foot fracture she sustained at the end of January. At its most severe, even putting on clothes was painful.

“Commonly it is the shoulder and foot joints, near the ankle, that are most painful. I think there may be many more cases that were unreported, as my pharmacist said that there has been a sudden increase of people buying inflammation gel for joint pains in the past few months,” she said.

Former Malaysian Medical Association president Datuk Dr N.K.S. Tharmaseelan said doctors in the country are trained to primarily detect malaria and dengue, since both diseases are fatal.

“Both chikungunya and dengue share the Aedes mosquito as a vector, and have overlapping symptoms in the early stages. To my knowledge, no one in Malaysia has died of chikungunya,” he said.

Because of this, determining chikungunya is a long-term process, with a minimum waiting period of at least two weeks before anything can be made clear.

“Doctors tend to play it safe as they seek to rule out dengue, which poses a more immediate threat to one’s life, before seeking out other non-fatal diseases such as chikungunya. Its treatment is also similar to dengue, as doctors aim to curb its spread,” said Dr Tharmaseelan.

As a virus-borne disease he said there is no cure for chikungunya, and doctors can only focus on aiding the patient in recovering, with conditional and symptomatic treatment as well.

‘Ah Long buster’ responsible cop, doting dad

IPOH — Tributes poured in yesterday for ASP Chen Ah Kooy, who is best remembered for posting a video warning loan sharks against putting up banners in Menglembu.

The Menglembu police station chief died from thyroid illness on Sunday. He was 57.

His eldest daughter Cheryl, 21, said her father was a doting family man and would make time for the family as often as possible.

“He would commute from Menglembu to Taiping because he wanted to be with us. He was such a loving father. I am proud of him,” the university student said.

More than 100 policemen, family members and friends were at the Prestavest Memorial Hall here yesterday to pay their last respects before the funeral.

Among them were Ipoh police chief ACP Sum Chang Keong, who described Chen’s passing as a “loss to the force”.

“He was very hardworking and dedicated to his duties,” he said.

“It is a great loss but sadly, these things are fated.”

Menglembu assemblyman Lim Pek Har said Chen’s video, uploaded on YouTube last year, created an impact.

“Following the video, there were hardly any loan shark posters here. The video was rather effective,” she said.

Lim praised Chen for his work ethics, adding he was a responsible man.

“He was a very diligent and responsible police officer. Many used to say he would only sleep way past midnight as he was always busy working,” she said.

“I hope whoever replaces Chen will be as dedicated and hardworking as he was.”

Chen gained fame after the video of him, in full uniform, went viral on social media. The video shows Chen delivering a scathing warning to Ah Longs to stop putting up stickers and banners in the town.

While some questioned his methods, others praised him for his bravery in tackling the menace.

Chen leaves a wife, Moo Siew Lan, 51, and daughters Cheryl and Caren, 15.

Rela woman held 
over RTD robbery

KUALA LUMPUR — Police have arrested a People’s Volunteer Corps (Rela) member to facilitate investigations after two men, armed with machetes, stormed into the Road Transport Department (RTD) in Jalan Genting Klang in Setapak and made off with RM754,000 on Monday.

Police said the 41-year-old woman was detained after her statement was recorded at the Setapak police station on the day of the robbery.

City CID chief SAC Rusdi Mohd Isa said: “It was crucial for us to get her statement as she has been working at the department’s office for the past three years.

“We are also investigating the loss of her mobile phone, which she claimed was taken by the suspects.”

Police have not ruled out the possibility of an inside job. The suspects, wearing full-faced helmets, entered the RTD building through the back door, that was suspiciously left unlocked as employees counted the daily collection in the accounts room at 5.40pm.

It is understood the money was to have been picked up by a security company later in the day.

“The ease with which the robbery was executed leads us to believe there could have been assistance from within,” he said.

Rusdi said the suspects then entered the enforcement secretariat room, where they held up a woman employee.

“The suspects then barged into the revenue room and snatched the money, after holding up three staff working inside. They then fled.”

Rusdi said the suspects also made off with several cheques worth RM440,003.

A police forensic team later lifted 10 fingerprints from the scene.

Police find murder weapon in politician’s slaying

KUCHING — Police believe they have solved the killing of activist and politician Bill Kayong with the discovery of the suspected murder weapon.

At 5pm yesterday, one of the six suspects apprehended earlier this week led a police task force to a house in Jalan Hai Nam Lama, Miri, where he pointed out the spot they hid a shotgun allegedly used in Bill’s murder.

The shotgun was found with several bullets and a spent casing, The Borneo Post reported.

“With the arrest of the suspects and the confiscation of the shotgun, we are confident that Bill Kayong’s murder has been solved,” it quoted State Commissioner of Police Datuk Mazlan Mansor as saying in a press statement.

“The task force has detected that several other suspects are still free. The details on those suspects cannot be disclosed at this stage. Efforts are under way to complete the investigation to charge the suspects in court,” he said.

The federal police headquarters in Bukit Aman had set up the task force to investigate the murder of the PKR Miri branch secretary who was shot dead in his pick-up vehicle at a traffic light intersection in front of E-mart commercial centre at 8.15am on June 21.

Based on the post-mortem done on June 22, two pellets were found in the wound on his right neck and he died on the spot.

The task force was led by Sarawak CID chief SAC Dev Kumar M.M. Sree Shunmugam.

Bangladeshi arrested after swimming to Singapore

SINGAPORE — A 36-year-old Bangladeshi was arrested near the Causeway in the early hours on Sunday morning after he was spotted walking along the shoreline towards Singapore.

The Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) said the man had been spotted by the Police Coast Guard, who subsequently informed ICA officers, reported Singapore’s Today.

Officers from the Land Domain were deployed to search for the person and arrested him at about 3.35am.

Preliminary investigations showed the man had attempted to swim to Singapore from Johor and landed at the shoreline where he was arrested.

Under the Immigration Act, the penalties for overstaying or illegal entry are a jail term of up to six months and a minimum of three strokes of the cane, while the penalties for illegal departure are a fine of up to S$2,000 (RM5,958) and/or a jail term of up to six months.

Investigations into the case are ongoing.

On Feb 5, two men were arrested by the Police Coast Guard for attempting to leave the Republic illegally by swimming across the Straits of Johor to Malaysia.

Two Malaysian men were arrested on Nov 25 last year for trying to swim across the Causeway from Singapore. The duo, aged 37 and 39, tried to disguise their attempt by holding black trash bags over their heads, but officers at Woodlands Checkpoint found them near the shoreline towards Malaysia.

Police: Movida wasn’t IS first target

PETALING JAYA — The Movida Kitchen, Bar and Club Lounge in Puchong was not the target of local Islamic State (IS) militants who carried out a hand grenade attack there on June 28.

Bukit Aman Special Branch director Datuk Seri Mohamad Fuzi Harun told Malay Mail Afternoon E-Paper yesterday that Movida was not the initial target as the militants had planned to carry out the attack at a more popular entertainment outlet in the heart of the city.

“Police had received information on the militants’ plans and we took all measures to thwart the attack,” he said.

“Policemen were on standby around the targeted areas in the city and security was heightened, so the suspects had no choice but to carry out the attack at another location.”

Fuzi said police believed that on the day of the attack, the suspects went to other locations but did not carry out their plan as most of the entertainment outlets closed early.

“They picked Movida because there was still a crowd there at that time. The security at the bar and the surrounding area was poor,” he said.

Fuzi said the 15 militants arrested following the incident included two policemen who were being monitored by police.

“We knew they were IS sympathisers and the swift arrest after the attack was made possible because we had them in our files,” he said.

He expressed confidence the two suspects on the run would be nabbed soon.

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar yesterday reiterated his proposals to the government to place all entertainment outlets in one area for security reasons.

“Clubs and pubs are everywhere. It is hard for us to keep an eye on each one of them. If they were gathered in one area, it would be easier for us to carry out our duties and prevent such incidents,” he said.

Khalid also urged entertainment outlet owners to abide by the rules to close on time.

“Terrorist are more likely to zero in on night clubs and bars which open until the wee hours,” he said.

Eight people were injured after a hand grenade was tossed onto the front porch of Movida, where a group of 20 people had gathered to watch a Euro 2016 football telecast, while a couple was there to celebrate their wedding anniversary.

Police had initially thought the motive could be business rivalry or the attack was targeted at a particular individual.

On Monday, police disclosed the attack was the first IS strike in Malaysia. This was following the arrest of 15 suspected militants in a police crackdown in the Klang Valley and northern states, which began days after the incident and continued until last weekend. Those detained were aged between 19 and 52.

The attack was carried out following instructions by the mastermind, identified as Muhammad Wanndy Mohamad Jedi, who remains at large in Syria.

See also page 15

Bar operators take precautions

PETALING JAYA — Entertainment outlets in the Klang Valley are feeling the effects of a recent Islamic State (IS) grenade attack on a night spot in Puchong, with some forced to close early as customers stayed away.

Malay Mail Afternoon E-Paper visited 20 clubs and bars on Monday night and found many who worked at such establishments were concerned an IS attack could happen at their outlet.

Pitbull Bar at SetiaWalk used to operate until 2am. Since the attack, there has been a drop in customers and the bar now closes as early as 12.30am, said supervisor Mohd
Al-Amin.

“It’s scary to know there are terrorists walking freely here. They can attack any time at any place,” he said.

Al-Amin added hiring more bouncers or tightening security in the area would not be effective as the terrorists could be anyone.

A manager at Muzeum Bar, who only wished to be known as Chow, said at a joint management board meeting next week, he would propose eateries and entertainment outlets in SetiaWalk close early.

“My contract states I am to operate until 1am but with what has happened (in Puchong), it would be best if we closed earlier,” he said.

“I have also hired an extra bouncer. We have good security here.”

SetiaWalk is located some 6km from Movida Bar in IOI Boulevard, which was attacked by IS on June 28. Eight patrons were hurt in the blast, many of them football fans watching the England-Iceland Euro 2016 match.

In Changkat Bukit Bintang, Loco Bar and Restaurant acting manager Jose Carlo Comandador said he would neither close his bar earlier nor hire extra security personnel.

“Police and the army patrol the area frequently in the day. This is good but it will be better if they are also around at night. We need the police to be on standby in case of any incidents,” he said.

“More security is needed as there are many foreigners that frequent bars here.”

A spokesman for Tom, Dick and Harry in Taman Tun Dr Ismail said: “Despite the danger, we will continue business as usual.

“We know our customers as most of them are regulars. So, it is easy for us to identify suspicious characters.”

Iran condemns Saudi attacks

TEHRAN — Iran yesterday condemned three suicide bombings that rocked its regional rival Saudi Arabia, one of them targeting Islam’s second holiest place, the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina.

“There are no more red lines left for terrorists to cross. Sunnis, Shi’ites will both remain victims unless we stand united as one,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter.

Four security guards were killed in the Medina bombing. The other attacks on Monday targeted the United States consulate in the Red Sea city of Jeddah and the Shi’ite minority in the east of the Sunni-dominated kingdom.

“Terrorism knows no border or nationality and there is no solution except creating an international and regional unity against this phenomenon,” foreign ministry spokesman, Bahram Ghasemi, told state broadcaster IRIB.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility.

The Prophet’s Mosque marks the place where Mohammed is buried and attracts millions of pilgrims each year.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are locked in increasingly tense competition for regional influence, and back opposing sides in regional conflicts, including in Syria and Yemen.

Riyadh broke off diplomatic relations with Tehran in January after protesters attacked its embassy in the Iranian capital and its consulate in Mashhad.

Monday’s explosions targeting US diplomats, Shi’ite worshippers and a security headquarters at a mosque in the holy city of Medina followed days of mass killings claimed by Islamic State in Turkey, Bangladesh and Iraq.

The attacks all seem to have been timed to coincide with the approach of Aidilfitri.

A suicide bomber detonated a bomb at a parking lot outside the Prophet’s Mosque, a Saudi security spokesman told state news agency SPA.

“Security men noticed a suspicious person among those approaching the Prophet’s Mosque in an open area used as parking lots for visitors’ cars. As they confronted him, he blew himself up with an explosive belt, which resulted in his death and the martyrdom of four of the security men,” the spokesman said.

Five other officers were wounded, the statement added.

A Saudi security official said an attacker parked a car near the US consulate in Jeddah before detonating a bomb.

Pictures circulating on social media showed dark smoke billowing from flames near the Mosque of the Prophet, originally built in the seventh century by the Prophet Muhammad, who is buried there along with his first two successors.

In Qatif, an eastern city that is home to many members of the Shi’ite minority, at least one and possibly two explosions struck near a Shi’ite mosque. The security spokesman said the body of a bomber and two other people have been identified, without providing
any details.

Witnesses described body parts, apparently of a suicide bomber, in the aftermath.

A resident said there were believed to be no casualties there apart from the attacker, as worshippers had already gone home to break fast. Civil defence forces were cleaning up the area and police were investigating, the resident said.

Hours earlier, a suicide bomber was killed and two people were wounded in a blast near the US consulate in Jeddah.

The Jeddah blast was the first bombing in years to target foreigners in the kingdom.

Authorities identified the attacker as a 34-year-old Pakistani driver named Abdullah Qalzar Khan, who lived with his wife and family in the city.

An official of the US State Department said no American citizens or consulate staff were hurt in the Jeddah blast. He said the US was aware of reports of explosions in Qatif and Medina, and would monitor the situation closely.

The top Saudi clerical body condemned the attacks.

“They are renegades from the (true) religion who have left behind the Muslim flock and are violating all sanctities,” the Secretariat of the Council of Senior Scholars said in a statement.

“They have no religion,” it added.
— Agencies

Suicide bomber attacks Indonesian police station

JAKARTA — A suicide bomber on a motorcycle attacked a police station in the Indonesian city of Solo yesterday, killing himself and wounding a police officer, a police spokesman said.

Following the attack, President Joko Widodo, who is from Solo and a former mayor of the town, urged calm and ordered police to quickly arrest others who that may have been connected to the suicide bomber.

Police have increased security at churches, mosques, shopping malls
and airports.

“We are increasing the number of personnel and intensifying security in places where there are a lot of people gathering,” said police spokesman Agus Rianto.

Police said the attacker detonated a bomb he was wearing shortly after driving into the grounds of the police station in Solo, known as a hotbed for religious fundamentalism. A police officer who tried to stop him from entering sustained minor injuries.

The identity of the bomber was not immediately clear, but intelligence chief Sutiyoso told MetroTV he suspected the attacker was a supporter of Islamic State (IS).

The radical group claimed its first attack in Indonesia last January, in the capital Jakarta, that killed four people. The four attackers also died.

Indonesia saw a spate of attacks in the 2000s, the deadliest of which was a nightclub bombing on the holiday island of Bali that killed 202 people, most of
them tourists.

Police have been largely successful in destroying domestic militant cells since then, but they now worry the influence of IS could pitch the country back into violence.

Southeast Asian militants claiming to be fighting for IS in the Middle East have said they have chosen one of the most wanted men in the Philippines to head a regional faction of the ultra-radical group, including Indonesians and Malaysians, security officials said last month. — Reuters

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