MIRI: Some pockets of the Penan community in Sarawak may be as vulnerable to communicable diseases as the Batek tribe of the Orang Asli community in Kelantan if they had missed out on vaccinations.
Dr Philip Raja, who is a consultant paediatrician and heart specialist, said the spread of communicable diseases such as measles is especially dangerous for close-knit communities such as the Penan.
“The mysterious illness that afflicted the Batek people in Kampung Kuala Koh, Gua Musang has been confirmed to be measles.
“Such a tragedy can easily happen to our Penan tribe who have similar background to the Batek – close-knit community, intermarriage, under-nutrition, and lower immunity amongst children,” he told The Borneo Post yesterday.
Dr Raja said while government vaccination programmes for the Penan and other rural communities in Sarawak have been excellent, checks must be made to ensure no Penan child is unimmunised to prevent what befell the Batek from happening in the state.
“Measles is highly infectious and can easily spread. It only takes a small pocket of unimmunised persons to spread the disease.”
On Monday, Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad confirmed that 37 of the 112 Batek Orang Asli people had tested positive for measles.
So far, 15 deaths have been reported – the latest being a three-year-old Batek child who died Sunday.
Tests for tuberculosis, melioidosis, leptospirosis and the coronavirus amongst the tribe came back negative, said the minister, who attributed the measles outbreak to low rates of immunisation within the indigenous community.