iSpeak: Coping with COVID-19 and Dengue/Chikungunya

The hot topic is still COVID-19, but residents in Lim Garden and many other areas in Ipoh are more worried about dengue and chikungunya. You can isolate yourself to protect from COVID-19, but mosquitos are just waiting to enter your house or car when the door is opened. There is no safe place.

Between March and June, at the time of writing there were ten dengue cases near my house. One person had it for a second time and was admitted to the hospital. One of the victims was my brother’s daughter. Lately, health authorities have declared two roads as red zones.

In June, in addition to dengue, there are four chikungunya cases and one of them is my sister. Banners have been put up to warn of more dengue outbreaks. 

Photo by Jeyaraj

In March during the start of the outbreak, two staff from the health department came to interview the residents and inspect the compounds. They informed me of the dengue cases in my lane. My compound is clean and I showed the officers the pond in front of my house which is breeding ground for mosquitoes. However, It was not of concern to them. When I read that MBI had filled the pond in First Garden for mosquito breeding, I informed them of this pond in the MBI media WhatsApp group. Nothing has been done.

The road in front of my house was fogged for four weeks at intervals from a truck; normally they only fog once or twice. Fogging from trucks is not effective. When fogging used to be done manually, the person thoroughly fogged the drains including my compound. Nowadays they are also not fogging all newly affected areas; it is all done on a selective basis.

Furthermore, the previous pesticide used to have a strong smell that we could detect from afar and cover our food accordingly. Now it has no smell and people who had left their food open would not know whether it is contaminated when their neighbourhoods are fogged. This brings additional health concerns. 

During 2014, at the peak of a dengue outbreak, I requested Dato’ Dr. Mah Hang Soon, who was Exco for health then, to visit my place. He arrived with staff from the state health department. Samples of mosquito larvae from the pond were taken and a week later I was informed that they are not Aedes mosquitos. We are safe. End of story. 

W.K. Lam and D. Dharmaraj published their research paper “A Survey on mosquitoes breeding in septic tanks in several residential areas around Ipoh municipality” in the Medical Journal Malaysia Vol. 37 No. 2, dated June 1982. The report is available online. 

The survey included Lim Garden and the report stated that individual and communal septic tanks were the major causes of mosquito breeding. This is a continuous problem and is serious. Lim Garden should be connected to the centralised sewage system which is currently being constructed.

NST dated November 14, 2014 reported, “Residents of Lim Garden are up in arms over the authorities’ apathy in tackling dengue in the area”. Their spokesman Dr Yoga Iswara, 70, said besides clogged drains, residents also had to put up with uncollected rubbish and abandoned premises with overgrown grass. The situation has not changed. 

The cause is known, but there is no willpower on the part of the government to solve it. It looks like Lim Garden cannot shed its image as ‘Mosquito Garden’.

MBI is not cutting grass and cleaning drains that have become ideal places for mosquito breeding. MBI has put the blame on the contractor and the previous government for awarding a contract to this contractor. As contract holder, it is the responsibility of MBI to supervise. Why is MBI reluctant to terminate this contract? We are paying the highest rate of assessment in the country and getting no service in return. 

MBI has to provide three basic services, namely garbage collection, cutting grass and cleaning drains. During the 1950s when Ipoh was the cleanest town in the country, Ipoh Town Council under the Seenivasagam brothers did all the work with their own staff. Seventy years down the road and with all the modern technology, MBI should be able to provide these services with their own staff. I am told that the Penang City Council uses its own staff to do all the work. If Penang can do it; why not MBI? MBI should take responsibility and not blame others for their incompetence.

My friends from Penang, KL and Selangor say they do not have problems with basic services; it is unique to Ipoh.

More than 60 years ago, during the 1950s, I lived in Lahat Lane near Kinta River where we reared cows, goats, chickens and rabbits. Mine was a kampong type house; upstairs was our living quarters and downstairs was open. At night, the men slept at one end of downstairs with the cows and goats at the other. The surroundings were bushy with bucket type jamban (toilet) outside the house.Yet there was no mosquito problem. Every other day an enforcement officer from town council will come and inspect the place.  Now I stay just two kilometres from the MB’s office and not only is my place infested with mosquitos, we also have to bear the stinking smell of cow dung and urine. This is how Ipoh has progressed.

A. Jeyaraj

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