PUTRAJAYA: The Health Ministry confirmed today there is an outbreak of measles among the Orang Asli Batek tribe at Kampung Kuala Koh Orang Asli community in Gua Musang, Kelantan.
Its Minister Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad said the disease was established after 37 people out of 112 have tested positive for the disease, as of June 15.
"However, tests for tuberculosis, melioidosis, leptospirosis and the corona virus came back negative. Based on the test results, (we can say that) the Kampung Kuala Koh Orang Asli community is facing a measles outbreak," he said.
Dzulkefly said this to reporters after attending a briefing with medical staff who had been selected to work in Makkah and Madinah for the upcoming Haj season.
Also present was Haj senior general manager cum head of head of the Malaysian 1440H delegation Datuk Seri Syed Saleh Syed Abdul Rahman.
Dzulkefly attributed the measles outbreak to low immunisation coverage within the Kampung Kuala Koh Orang Asli community.
He said the Batek tribe members only received 61.5 per cent for the first dose of the Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccination and 30 per cent for the second dosage.
"We face difficulty in providing healthcare services to the Batek tribe because of their nomadic lifestyle. Malnutrition is another reason that leads to risks of infection and complications," he said.
The minister said efforts to prevent and control the outbreak had begun including actively tracking down tribe members and giving vitamin A to all children being treated for measles to boost their immune system.
At the same time, the authorities were also working on an immunisation drive to all Orang Asli in the vicinity, providing health education, counseling sessions, ramping up infection prevention control at health facilities and encouraging them to wear personal protective equipment.
"We have also asked other states to raise their measles infection surveillance as well as immunisation drive among the Orang Asli community at the respective states.
“Those in other states must alert the ministry immediately via the National Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre should there is case cluster or deaths displaying similar symptoms."
He said measles is considered to be a highly contagious disease as a single case of the infection and could spread to between 12 and 18 other people.
Usually, the fatality rate would be less than one per cent but it could be higher between three and six per cent if the patient was malnourished. he added.
Out of 14 reported fatalities as of June 15, the minister said, only two latest cases were taken to the hospital for post-mortem, adding that the initial post-mortem had shown the cause of death was due to pneumonia.
"Yesterday (June 16), there was another fatality reported involving a two-year-six-month old Batek boy at about 6.45pm at the Raja Perempuan Zainab Hospital. The cause of death is measles complicated by pneumonia and malnourishment which was the risk factor."
Dzulkefly also confirmed that police, with the help of the ministry's forensic team, had exhumed all 12 Orang Asli bodies from Kuala Koh as off 6.40pm yesterday. The remains had been sent to the Gua Musang Hospital for further investigations into the cause of their death.
"The post-mortem on these bodies will begin today." he added.