Bakun is not cursed, say Sarawak officials

The Sarawak Health Department will monitor the situation in the Bakun area in the coming week following three reported deaths recently from melioidosis and leptospirosis, two types of tropical disease caused by bacteria found in soil and water.

Sarawak Assistant Minister of Environment and Public Health, Dr Stephen Rundi said he would lead a medical team to check on the situation and take blood samples of local residents in the affected area, which is also the site of the Bakun hydroelectric project.

“We have received the medical data of previous cases that occurred in Bakun, so it is not a new outbreak,” Dr Rundi, who is a medical doctor by training, said today.

He said health hazard warning signboards would also be erected in areas confirmed to be sources of infection or contamination. These areas could be closed under the Preventive and Control of Infectious Disease Act and Regulations 1988.

“One of the preventive measures being taken by the state government is to get the Health Department to conduct public health talks to avoid alarm. Both diseases can be treated by getting a blood test to detect them (albeit this takes time).

“Complicated cases normally develop after an incubation period of seven to eight days, but suspected carriers suffering from fever and joint or muscle pains should seek early treatment,” he added.

The recent outbreak and deaths have been said by some to be the work of spirits in the Bakun area, angry about the construction of the dam and flooding of native ancestral grounds. State Health director Dr Zulkifli Jantan confirmed that the diseases afflicting the victims are melioidosis and leptospirosis.

He was quoted as saying that the total fatalities from the two diseases unti July 23 this year is 10. A news portal had published that 10 people hired by the Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) to save animals from being drowned following the impoundment of the Bakun Dam had died from a mysterious disease.

He said so far, two melioidosis clusters had been reported in the Bakun project area in Belaga and in the Iron Wall Logging Camp in Kapit, with 31 positive cases detected up to July 23 this year compared to 343 reported cases in 2010.

There were 51 cases of leptospirosis reported during the same period compared to 49 last year.

— Bernama