PETALING JAYA: The Bateq people and NGOs are in disbelief that the cause of the mysterious illness which killed 15 Orang Asli from Kampung Kuala Koh is measles.
Raina Anjang, the Tok Batin of Kampung Aring 5, about 30km from the Kuala Koh settlement, was shocked with the results of the medical tests.
He expected it to be something else.
“The Bateq community in Kuala Koh don’t know of this disease but I have heard of it,” he said yesterday.
Raina was on his way back to Gua Musang from Kota Baru to relay the latest news to Kuala Koh Tok Batin Muhammad Pokok.
It is learnt that many Bateq in the two villages are related through marriage and their children attend a school jointly set up by the Department of Orang Asli Development (Jakoa), Kelantan Education Department and NGO Sahabat Jariah in Aring 5.
NGOs with contacts in the affected village are also puzzled by the findings.
“This is weird but that’s what the tests say,” said a bewildered Sahabat Jariah president Johan Halid.
Meanwhile, Association for the Protection of the Natural Heritage of Malaysia (Peka) president Puan Seri Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil questioned how measles could have led to so many deaths in the span of one month.
Their scepticism is expected as an initial post-mortem on Romi Hamdan and Puja Joh, the Bateq tribe members from Kuala Koh who died on May 29 and June 6, revealed that they died of pneumonia.
However, Kelantan health director Dr Zaini Hussin said there is a possibility that their respiratory ailment was a complication of measles.
“There is a high possibility that they might have contracted pneumonia from measles due to their weak immune systems and malnutrition,” he said.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), most measles-related deaths are caused by complications associated with the disease, including pneumonia
Other complications include blindness, encephalitis, severe diarrhoea and related dehydration and ear infections.
The article on measles on the WHO website also states that severe measles is more likely to happen among poorly nourished children, especially those with insufficient vitamin A or those with a weakened immune system.
Over the years, vaccination has helped reduce the number of measles cases worldwide.
But Dr Zaini said the Bateq people were unable to keep to scheduled vaccinations due to their nomadic nature.
He also rubbished claims that the health centre in the village was unmanned.
“There are always staff members at the health facilities and on top of that, we go to the village regularly basis just like the staff members at the Gombak Orang Asli Hospital,” he said.
He also dismissed the claim of the disease being linked to contaminated water as test results did not support the claim.