Monday, 15 July 2013

Penang Monthly: Penang Influenza 1918

Penang Monthly:
Since the 1870s, the colonial authorities in Penang had an established epidemiological mechanism covering the early detection of infectious diseases from foreign ports and a network of quarantine camps. However, there was a fundamental loophole in the structure: the Quarantine and Prevention of Disease Ordinance 1915 did not include influenza in the list of not idenfiable contagious diseases alongside plague, smallpox and cholera. As a result, many influenza-infected immigrants who entered Penang, escaped the colonial authorities’ scrutiny and worsened the epidemic in the colony .
In the Straits Settlements, Penang had the most number of hospitals: five on the island and three in Province Wellesley. Nevertheless, the colonial authorities could not deal with the epidemic effectively as the hospitals were direly understaffed. For the whole of Penang, there were only 16 nurses and three to four doctors serving in the hospitals. Such a severe shortage hence led to high death rates. For instance, it was reported that 267 influenza victims died within 48 hours of admission to the General Hospital of Penang.
Straits Settlements Blue Book for the year 1917.
Judith L. Richell (2006), Disease and Demography in Colonial Burma, Singapore and Copenhagen: NUS and NIAS Press.

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