Sunday, June 16

Deadly diseases strike fear in resettlement

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KUCHING: Apart from bad road conditions, there is now a new problem affecting the residents of Bakun resettlement in Sungai Asap – the risk of being exposed to infectious and deadly diseases such as melioidosis and leptospirosis (known locally as ‘penyakit kencing tikus’).

Bakun Community Safety Committee (BSCS) chairman Dr Elli Luhat said yesterday the recent fatal cases involving four Sarawak Forestry staff, suspected to be caused by one of the diseases, has been a cause of concern and constant worry among the people there.

According to Elli, he was informed of the deaths two weeks ago. The deceased staff members were involved in moving large animals from the Bakun Dam water catchment area to higher ground and fell sick upon completion of the work.

This fear has been intensified after a penghulu was warded at the ICU unit at the Bintulu Hospital (BH) after becoming critically ill from suspected melioidosis or leptospirosis infection, he stated.

The penghulu was transported by helicopter to BH when he collapsed during a visit by a state minister to that area recently.

“There have also been several mysterious deaths over the years in that area including one that involved a cousin of mine. Because of this, we want the government to confirm and identify the diseases, so that immediate and remedial actions can be taken. This may include vaccination,” he told reporters at his residence at Taman BDC here yesterday.

When asked if the State Health Department had been notified of these cases, he said: “I’ve heard that they are aware of it, but I hope they do not keep quiet about it.”

According to a health website, melioidosis is caused by a bacterium (burkholderia pseudomailei) found in the soil, rice paddies and stagnant waters in Southeast Asia and Northern Australia. People acquire the disease when the contaminated soil comes in contact with an abraded area of the skin.

Leptospirosis, on the other hand, is caused by bacteria called spirochete, and is transmitted through contact with infected soil or water.

On a separate matter, Elli called on the relevant authorities to make repairs on the Bakun road leading to Sungai Asap and Koyan.

He said the road, which is about 100km long, is now very dangerous to drive on due to the many potholes said to be caused by the heavy timber trucks.

Despite staging a blockade and demonstration at the road to get the attention of the authorities, he said the authorities have done little to repair the road.

Land Development Minister Tan Sri Dr James Jemut Masing has even called the road ‘a death trap’ in a recent press report.

“This is a sad case and a chronic problem because the bad road has caused us much hardship. There have been accidents and even road fatalities there,” he said.

Elli recalled that in 1996 when the road was first completed, it would take only two hours to reach Bintulu from Sungai Asap.

“Now, it would take up to four to five hours. This is a major problem especially in times of emergency,” he added.

About 20,000 people mainly from the Orang Ulu community reside in Sungai Asap after they were resettled there when the Bakun Hydroelectric Dam project was initiated.

Elli called on the relevant authorities to contact him at 013-8182977 or 013-8289795, or even to visit his Facebook page to discuss ways to make the Bakun Resettlement a better and safer place for the people there.