KUALA LUMPUR: It’s easy for the Orang Asli in Kuala Koh to fall sick as they are malnourished and as such have weak immunity, says Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad.
The Health Minister added that some of them were not even vaccinated.
“This is something that we need to follow up immediately,” he said at a press conference in Gua Musang, Kelantan, that was streamed live on the ministry’s Facebook page yesterday.
Dr Dzulkefly said the Bateq tribe were succeptible to bacterial as well as a secondary viral infection. However, he ruled out tuberculosis (TB) and leptospirosis.
He said the area they were in had a manganese mine and lung disease could be one of the health issues there.
“We will find out the cause of the pulmonary diseases,” he said.
Besides the two post-mortems that were done, 49 others were given inpatient treatment, one is in ICU and another 47 were given outpatient treatment.
There are 185 Orang Asli from 39 families living in the Kuala Koh village and 99 of them have respiratory problems such as coughs, difficulty breathing and colds.
On June 8, Sinar Harian reported that 13 Orang Asli at the village died of a “mysterious disease”.
The villagers blamed it on water from an air tandak (pond).
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department P. Waytha Moorthy confirmed yesterday that 14 people had died between May 2 and June 7.
At yesterday’s conference with Dr Dzulkefly, Waytha Moorthy said there were no new fatalities.
The Health Ministry said the community buried some of those who had died.
Asked if the place was dangerous for visitors, he said that there was a need to isolate the area.
Cases of infection, he said, were from the same cluster.
“We don’t encourage people to go to the village now, but if they need to, they should be equipped with protective gear,” he said, adding there were concerns disease could spread via droplets.
Waytha Moorthy said the villagers told him that some had died during a journey from Kelantan to Jerantut, Pahang.
The Health Ministry stated that 12 Orang Asli died in the forest and were buried there based on what they were told.
Kelantan Health director Dr Zaini Hussin said police could not locate the burial sites.
And this, he said, posed a challenge for the bodies to be exhumed for post-mortem.
The police operation to locate the graves would begin tomorrow, Bernama reported.
Bukit Aman Internal Security and Public Order Department director Datuk Seri Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani said 30 members of the General Operation Force and policemen from Gua Musang district police headquarters would be involved in the operation.