Last week, the Health Ministry confirmed that there is no bird flu (H5N1) infection from chicken on humans reported in Kelantan so far and has advised members of the public not to panic. The only cases that was detected by the Ministry were that from free range chicken bred by small-scale farmers in the state and did not spread to the other states.
Although the epidemic scare is a very isolated case and was quickly taken care of by the relevant agencies, the news was enough to create a nationwide panic, similar to that caused in the last H5N1 outbreak occurred in 2007 in Selangor state.
In the wake of the scare, an important question that bears asking, “How prepared are we in facing such ‘invisible’ biological threats?”
Malaysia has seen its shares of dangerous and deadly epidemics and pandemics, from the H5N1, Influenza, Zika, Typhoid, Ebola, Salmonella, Dengue and even AIDS just to name a few. Thousands have died and many more have suffered because of these viruses that is almost impossible to detect, manage or even control its deadly reach.
How do we even prevent let alone fight against something that is so microscopic, invisible to the naked eye, has no smell or taste and can silently infect from host to host without anyone knowing it until it’s too late? Is Malaysia capable of fighting against this unconventional threat? Do we have the means and knowhow to safeguard the nation from Mother Nature’s deadly microbes?
What if malicious individuals or terror organizations plans to use these viruses as a biological weapon of terror and mass destruction in Malaysia? How will we ever survive if such an attack like the 1984 Rajneeshee bioterror attack in Oregon, USA or the 1993 anthrax attack by Aum Shinrikyo group in Tokyo was ever to happen in Malaysia?
Last year the Malaysian government allocated RM15.06 billion to the Ministry of Defence and RM26 billion for healthcare for 2017. However, none of the budget is allocated specifically to counter and prepare for biological/ chemical threats and warfare. This is something that the government should seriously look into.
The 1918-19 “Spanish” influenza killed more people than all the wars of the 20th century combined. The H7N9 strain in China is reportedly could be the source for the next human pandemic. The future is full of uncertainty. The only way we can win the inevitable microbe wars is to do the same — to be prepared and trained before the crisis hits. There is no price high enough when human lives are at stake.