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Farmers to sue government for mishandling Nipah outbreak

About 40 Nipah viral encephalitis victims and their families today declared that they will file a legal suit against the government for mishandling the Nipah outbreak one year ago.

"We want to sue the government for telling us it was a Japanese Encephalitis outbreak and for misleading us into taking wrong measures in containing the outbreak," Lai Bao Shen, 36, the group spokesperson told a press conference in Bukit Pelandok, Negri Sembilan

He claimed that the government had totally neglected the lives and safety of the people during the outbreak.

He believed more victims of the Nipah epidemic will join in the legal action.

The pig farmers, who are from Sungai Nipah, Kampung Sawah, Bukit Pelandok, Tanah Merah Site A and Tanah Merah Site C, felt that the legal action is their last option to claim some justice for their suffering and losses caused by the Nipah epidemic.

"We have lost everything - families, friends, jobs, money and property - and suffered psychological pressures. No matter whether we win the case or not, we want justice," he said, adding that he had lost a brother, a cousin and two other relatives to the Nipah virus.

He told malaysiakini by phone that most families would like to claim compensation from the government but they have yet to determine the amounts pending further discussion with their lawyers.

The group comprises representatives of 19 who had died, 21 are patients of the Nipah viral infection, including eight still in coma. It is believed that the claims would be multi-million ringgit sums.

"We urge the government to immediately announce its report on the Nipah outbreak, overcome the slow action of the government mechanisms in responding to the crisis, so as to assure the safety of Malaysian lives," said a press statement issued by the pig farmers

To date, the farmers are represented by six lawyers including KeADILan candidate for Teluk Kemang by-election Ruslan Kasim, activist Yang Pei Keng, Selangor state assemblyman Theng Chang Khim, Ngeow Ngee Yin and Ser Chong Ing.

It is believed that more lawyers will join them after the by-election.

It was one year ago that the first pig farmer in Sungai Nipah near Bukit Pelandok succumbed to the so-called JE outbreak. The Bukit Pelandok village, with 700 pig farms, was the largest pig-rearing community of its kind in Southeast Asia.

The health authorities on learning that the virus was transmitted by mosquito, ordered an intensive anti-JE operation, with fogging, mass vaccination of the 5,000 villagers, and other safety measures.

Yet none of these efforts stopped the outbreak, and more victims died.

Between October 1998 and May 1999, Malaysian health authorities have recorded more than 258 cases of encephalitis, with at least 104 deaths.

Thousands of pigs were culled in the bid to control the deadly outbreak. The rising death toll forced the villagers to abandon their homes for safety elsewhere.

Most of the deaths were first attributed to JE by the Ministry of Health, but it was later found to be caused by a new strain similar to the Hendra virus, named Nipah, after the village where the virus was first identified.