Polio Outbreak Risk in Sabah

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After being polio-free for 27 years, the health authorities announced in December 2019 that a three-month old baby had been diagnosed with the vaccine-derived poliovirus type 1 (VDPV1) on Dec 6 in Sabah.

According to the Ministry of Health’s director-general, Noor Hisham Abdullah the baby from Tuaran in eastern Sabah state was admitted into intensive care after developing polio symptoms.

Polio is a highly infectious viral disease with no cure. It affects the nervous system and spinal cord and can only be prevented with several doses of oral and injectable vaccines. In rare occasions it can be fatal.

Whatever the situation, the future of this child is certainly bleak. The question is why did this happen and how did this happen?

Let’s look at some facts.

  • Philippines, which shares a close sea border with Sabah, recorded its first polio case in September 2019 after 20 years
  • Test results showed that the Malaysian baby was infected with a strain that shared genetic links to the virus detected in the Philippines
  • Investigations found that 23 children under the age of 15 who lived close to the infected baby had also not received the polio vaccine. There is a high possibility of a rising trend.

This critical issue has given rise to doubts if the Sabah government was careless in its policies and administration. The Minister of Health and Peoples’ Wellbeing, Dato’ Frankie Poon Ming Fung (insert) must be held accountable. It is the responsibility of the minister to safeguard the health and well-being of all Sabahans.

Some of the initiatives that must be axed.

  1. The State government must stop its “Prosper thy neighbour,” plan or attitude that was mooted by Sabah’s chief minister, Shafie Apdal. It only portrays Sabah as a ‘caring’ state that would ultimately increase influx of more foreign immigrants.

With the lack of proper health care controls, this could lead to increased spread of contagious and communicable diseases. Typhoid is a potential threat.

  • The State government must scarp the plan to issue the controversial Sabah temporary pass to the 600,000 foreign immigrants. Imagine the catastrophe this can create if no proper health plans are in place. In fact, the whole of Sabah would be prone to various health hazards!

What will happen to the newborn children of these immigrants later? Just for the record, there are about 1.1. million foreigners in Sabah today.

The lack of education on the importance of immunization amongst foreigners would be one of the main causes for the babies to be diagnosed with ailments such as polio.

In essence, the Sabah government must prioritize its health policies and practices to ensure that its citizens (Sabahans) receive, at a minimum, basic healthcare benefits that can lead to safe and healthy lifestyles. The government must stop the influx of immigrants and foreigners into the state. This segment of the community must be deported  to their respective countries, in stages.

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