June 25, 2019 – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
The Malaysian Health Ministry director-general Datuk Dr. Noor Hisham Abdullah announced on June 22, 2019 that his officers were investigating reports of 19 cases of methanol poisoning over a ten-day period from June 11 through June 21.
Following the protocols health care providers notified The National Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre (CPRC). The Health Ministry noticed a cluster and began their investigations. The first report was from Penang on June 11 where doctors reported 8 Myanmar nationals being admitted to Penang Hospital with suspected methanol poisoning.
From interviews by doctors of the victims that were able to speak, their friends and relatives, the CPRC learned that the 8 victims consumed alcoholic beverages that bore the brand names Myanmar Whiskey, Miludeer Beer, Whiskey 99 and Martens Extra Strong. The Health Ministry believes all were counterfeited versions of the liquor.
From the CPRC data the Health Ministry is investigating 3 clusters. The first 8 victims in Penang on June 11 were followed by 6 victims seeking treatment in Johor that began on June 18. On June 20, five more cases were reported in Port Dickinson including two deaths, 2 in critical condition and 1 on the road to recovery.
The Health Ministry is examining tests from the victims as well as confiscating and testing liquor from the suspected suppliers. With the aid of Police investigative units, the Health Ministry seized alcoholic drinks, and equipment used to repackage alcoholic beverages illegally in Penang. In Johor, Police and Health Ministry Officials raided three establishments and seized their liquor.
In Port Dickinson, the local police chief announced the arrest of a 50-year-old woman along with her 19-year-old son for being the distributors of the adulterated liquor. In announcing the deaths and arrests of the culprits, district police chief Superintendent Aidi Sham Mohamed told the press that the initial investigation revealed that the two arrestees had purchased 24 cans of “Mule Beer” from a 40-year-old man for RM140. The pair were selling each can for RM7.50. Police confiscated the remaining 13 cans that were not sold. The two victims who succumbed to the fake Mule Beer in Port Dickinson were a 26-year-old woman and a 27-year-old man according to the Police Chief.
Health Ministry director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said that methanol was confirmed in most of the cases being investigated with a couple returning incomplete test results. He warned residents to avoid drinking home brewed liquor and to examine labels for any inconsistencies that may hint at counterfeit contents.
The Health Ministry is continuing to monitor all reports to The National Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre from health care providers that are similar to methanol poisoning symptoms.