PETALING JAYA: Claims of “mysterious” deaths occurring in the Batek orang asli community in Kampung Kuala Koh cannot be verified, says the Kelantan State Health Department.
Its director Dr Zaini Hussin said that as of Friday, no official reports had been lodged on the alleged deaths.
“The claim that 12 residents have died could not be verified as no one has officially reported the deaths either at the hospitals or health clinics in the area,” said Dr Zaini in a statement issued on Friday.
There was, however, a cluster of respiratory tract infections among the members of the community, he said.
He added that orang asli activists alerted the authorities about the infections on June 4.
The Health Department and Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa) immediately dispatched a health team to the orang asli village, where 29 people were found to be suffering from the infection.
They were referred to the Aring Health Clinic and the Chiku 3 Health Clinic in Gua Musang, Dr Zaini said.
Out of the 29, 12 were treated as outpatients, while 17 were referred to Gua Musang Hospital and three others to Kuala Krai Hospital for further treatment.
“Clinical examination showed signs of infection in the respiratory area,” he said, adding that the two hospitals were carrying out further tests to determine what caused the infection.
He said three out of the 29 were babies and 10 were children.
Sinar Harian reported yesterday that there were claims that 13 members of the Batek tribe living in Kampung Kuala Koh had died from a “mysterious” illness that was plaguing the community.
Kampung Kuala Koh headman Mamat Pokok told the daily that the illness plagued members of the community throughout the Ramadan period.
“We suspect that it is caused by a polluted pond (air tandak),” he said, adding that the pond was their source of water.
He said he suspected the pollution was caused by waste from an iron ore mine that had been operating in the area for the past four years.
When contacted yesterday, Jakoa director-general Prof Dr Juli Edo said the department would be going to the village this morning.
“We don’t want to comment for now,” he said.
Kelantan police chief Deputy Comm Datuk Hasanuddin Hassan, when contacted, said police received a report on one death so far.
“The case has been classified as sudden death,” he said.
According to Bernama, Kelantan Pakatan Harapan chairman Senator Datuk Husam Musa said urgent action must be taken to save the orang asli community.
Investigations should be carried out on whether the community was affected by contaminated water.
“Immediate measures to supply clean water should be implemented and the impact of the nearby iron ore mining plant should also be investigated and addressed,” he said.
He also called on all the relevant agencies to look into the issue and take proactive measures to save the victims.