The Health Ministry will conduct an independent investigation into the death of a 19-year-old girl who was diagnosed with tuberculosis.
Carmen Yee, who was supposed to sit for her Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran Malaysia (STPM) next month, died at the Penang Hospital on Aug 27, three days after she was admitted.
Deputy Health Minister Datuk Dr Lee Boon Chye said an independent committee headed by the ministry would be set up within two week and results were expected in two months.
”The committee will investigate the possibility of negligence in the treatment given to Carmen, among other things which had been raised by the next of kin,” he said.
Dr Lee said the ministry had conducted checks on 376 people connected to Carmen, including her parents, her 16-year-old brothers, school and orchestra band mates.
He said none of those tested were found to be suffering from tuberculosis.
However, Dr Lee said, the Mantoux test (screening for tuberculosis) found that 33 people, including students, teachers and bandmates, had been exposed to the disease in the past, not only by Carmen.
“We will conduct further tests on them to confirm if they are carrying germs.
“If they are, then what they have is latent tuberculosis, which might manifest as tuberculosis when their immunity drops due to illnesses or immunology diseases.
“They were put on a treatment plan, which is more preventative and generally shorter than normal tuberculosis treatment,” he said.
He said the 33, who were non contagious, would be monitored for the next two years to ensure they were really free of tuberculosis.
“This means there is no risk of the disease spreading so there is no need for panic.
“We have done tests and contained the situation,” he said.
Dr Lee said tuberculosis was a disease that was still prevalent in Malaysia but the mortality rate had gone down to only six per cent a year.
“In 2016 we had 24,739 cases of tuberculosis and in 2017 we had 26,188 cases. In 2018, we had 25,837 cases of which 2,184 resulted in death,” he said.
Dr Lee noted that foreign workers legally entering the country were screened for the disease and denied entry if they were carrying it.
“Those entering without documents are a concern and we will work closely with the police and Home Ministry,” he said after a meeting with Carmen’s parents at the Penang Hospital here today.
He pointed out that while foreign workers were one of the threats the other was international travel.
Meanwhile, Dr Lee said the number of respiratory illnesses has gone up by 30 to 40 per cent compared to the first week of September in 22 health clinics nationwide.
“We can attribute the increase to the haze problem,” he said.
Earlier, Yee’s mother Vivian Teoh, 47 broke down in tears before Dr Lee. She said her daughter was a bright student and had been healthy and active.
“You can say sorry now but it’s too late. Whatever you say cannot bring back my daughter. Can you return my daughter?” said the distraught and heartbroken mother, who was accompanied by her husband Yee Kok Ker, 55.
Kok Ker’s sister Christine Yee, 62, said Carmen had been coughing off and on for two months.
“During the period, we visited a general practitioner. On Aug 23, Carmen came to the Penang Hospital after coughing blood and an X-ray clinic revealed that she was possibly suffering from tuberculosis.
“However, the doctors at Penang Hospital sent her back, saying she appeared fine and to bring her back if she coughs blood again,” she said.