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TK Letchumy

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For quite some time now, the news of babies and infants dying after being left in the car by forgetful parents has been hogging the limelight.

In 2016, a one-year-old girl from Kulai Johor Baru died after she was left inside a car by her father for more than five hours. It was reported that the father of the child had driven straight to work without realising that his baby was in the backseat of the car.

The news shocked many Malaysians and they were quick to put the blame on the parents’ ignorance.

As the nation moved on from the devastating news, they were again shocked with another similar case.

In 2017, a six-year-old boy died after he was allegedly left inside a van for about three hours. The van driver, who had sent other children to a kindergarten in Rawang, did not notice that the boy had fallen asleep at the back of the van.

The nation was yet again shaken in a recent negligence case last month. A two-year-old toddler died after being left in a car by her mother for four hours at the Port Dickson Vocational College.

The mother, a lecturer at the college, only realised that she left her child in the car around 1pm, by which time the child was already unconscious.

Some parents have forgotten their child when they have veered from routine, for example, a change in pick-up or usual schedule.

No child seat at the back of car?

To curb such incidents from recurring, the Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim came up with precautionary measures for parents. This included placing their children aged five and below in a special seat especially made for them in the vehicle; placing infants in the front seat and securing them with a safety belt, and to disallow children from being placed in the back seat, especially behind the driver’s seat as it is a blind spot.

The minister may have meant well as she wanted to see a reduction in such cases, but some child and automobile experts quickly begged to differ.

Airbag hazard

Popular automobile site paultan.org said it is absolutely vital that children are seated in the back and properly secured in a child safety or booster seat as opposed to sitting in the front.

“This is to position your kids away from the front airbags in case of a frontal accident (the most common type of crashes).

“The only time you should ever place a child seat or booster seat in the front is if your car allows you to turn off the front passenger airbag (not many cars do, and even fewer still have Isofix anchors on the front passenger seat) – and even then, only as a last resort,” the site stated.

Car seats can be placed in front only if the car’s airbag can be switched off

The article also stressed that one should also avoid having any loose items their vehicles, as they would turn into projectiles in major accidents.

Meanwhile, following the statement from the minister, a group of pediatricians and physicians came up with a joint paper to put things into better perspective.

In a joint email to makchic, Hospital Raja Permaisuri Bainun senior consultant paediatrician Datuk Dr Amar-Singh HSS, Hospital Sibu consultant paediatrician Dr Toh Teck Hock and Penang Medical College senior consultant family physician, Professor Dr Krishnan Rajam, explained where a car seat should be installed.

“Most evidence and international expert guidelines recommend that young children under five years should be placed in a car safety seat in the back, not the front.

“A child car safety seat in the front passenger seat is risky due the presence of an airbag, which will push on the infant in the seat.

“In many developed countries, it is illegal to put a child in a car safety seat in the front passenger seat. The best location is in the centre back seat.”

The trio also suggested ways to reduce the risk of leaving your child in the car or how the public can help in the case of finding a child being left alone in a vehicle.

How not to forget that your child’s in the car

1. Keep an important item in the back seat with your child. It should be an item that you cannot do without at a meeting, work or shopping. For example, keep your purse or your hand phone or shoe on the floorboard of the back seat. This will serve to remind you as you leave the car.

Keep something important in the back seat near your child.

2. Keep an object in the front seat to remind you of your child, like a stuffed animal. Swap the child and the object when you place the child in the back seat and vice versa when you take your child out of the vehicle.

3. Remind your carer, babysitter or kindergarten teacher to call you if your child does not turn up at the correct time. This can serve as a back-up safety net.

4. As members of the public, it’s our duty to be alert whenever we see any child left in a car. Find out why and call the police if you cannot immediately find the parents.

5. There are technologies being developed to support parents. We should keep abreast of them – car seats with built-in sensors/alarms, apps with alerts/reminders and GPS trackers/distance alerts for our children.

Remember the time when most Malaysians were oblivious to the fact that there was a disease called Zika?

Even though such a disease existed and was creating havoc in other regions, some of us were never really bothered because it did not involve us.

Then one fine day, to be specific sometime towards the end of 2016, news of Zika appearing in Malaysia made the headlines and everyone went berserk.

So whatever happened to the Zika virus? Let us refresh your minds about what Zika is, how it made its way into Malaysia, and if it still poses a threat.

#1. What is Zika?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Zika is a mosquito-borne flavivirus that was first identified in Uganda in 1947 in monkeys through a network that monitored yellow fever. It was later identified in humans in 1952 in Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania.

Zika has been reported in many tropical and sub-tropical regions, where other Aedes mosquito-transmitted viruses also circulate including Dengue.

#2. So how did Zika enter Malaysia?

Contrary to popular belief that Zika only appeared in Malaysia in recent times, Zika and Malaysia have quite a long history.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information says Zika has been present in Malaysia for several decades. It also reported that the first isolation of Zika in Asia was from a pool of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes collected in Malaysia in 1966. Previous serological studies also suggested the presence of Zika in Malaysia before then.

However, a sudden surge in the number of Zika cases in 2016 to more than 200 cases in neighbouring country Singapore caused a justified panic among Malaysians.

Zika was declared a global health emergency in February 2016 by the World Health Organisation.

In September 2016, Malaysia’s first official Zika case was reported – a Malaysian woman tested positive for the infection after a visit to Singapore at that time. The woman from Taman Botanik in Klang, Selangor, was admitted to hospital after she experienced a fever and facial rash for a week after her return from the republic.

The first local infection was detected soon after, when a 61-year-old man from Kota Kinabalu tested positive for the disease.

The third confirmed Zika case was a 27-year-old pregnant woman from Johor Baru.

In December 2016, the number of Zika cases in Malaysia crept up to eight.

#3. How did Malaysians react?

Even though people were initially nonchalant about the disease, things took a different tune when the man who was locally infected with Zika passed away.

The man had no recent history of overseas travel at the time that he got infected. He also died of heart-related complications, but this did not stop people from thinking that he died of Zika.

Pregnant women worried about getting infected with Zika because the disease can cause birth defects called microcephaly, a rare condition where a baby is born with a small head and other severe brain abnormalities.

Due to that, many pregnant Malaysian women who were staying and working in Singapore flew back home.

Local pharmacies saw a surge in the sale of mosquito repellents and the demand for such products increased dramatically in wake of the disease.

The Health Ministry issued guidelines for people to protect themselves against Zika.

Among the guidelines issued to pregnant women include advice for them to postpone travel to 24 countries in the American region such as Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Curacao, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador and Venezuela where the Zika virus infection had been detected.

#4. Is Zika still around and poses a threat?

In February 2017, the pregnant mother who was infected with Zika gave birth to a healthy baby with normal head circumference.

At the same time, the Health Ministry confirmed that there was no documented cases of microcephaly associated with the Zika virus in Malaysia.

By November 2017, Zika was officially declared as a disease that is no longer a world public health emergency.

A Health Ministry official told makchic that there were no new cases of Zika reported throughout 2017.

However, WHO had said that the disease remains a challenge globally.

This just means that even though we do not read about new Zika cases and because it is no longer a threat, we should not let our guards down just yet.

This is especially true for couples trying to conceive or pregnant women.

Medical experts say there is still much to be learned about Zika, which seems to be the only virus of its type to cross the placental barrier and stunt the brain development of the fetus. What is extremely unusual about the virus is that it can also be spread through sexual contact.

Dr. Steven Lawrence, infectious disease specialist at Washington University, has said that after a wave of infection comes through, there are very few susceptible people left to infect in subsequent years.

“It may be once you weather the initial storm of the first year or two, then it becomes a less prominent problem in future years,” he said.

However, he cautions that people cannot write off the Zika threat yet. “It’s still a potential problem for people traveling. There is always the potential for changes in the virus. I don’t think the story is over.”

As Malaysia is one country where the Aedes mosquitoes thrive, it is always good to take extra precautions such as applying mosquito repellent cream before sleeping or even sleeping under mosquito nets.