Malaysia's top political figure in natural rubber declares concerns about NR latex allergies are overblown. He's wrong. There's an "unjust exuberance in reacting to the problem which could lead to an unfortunate phobia against rubber," said Lim Keng Yaik, Malaysia minister of primary industries, speaking May 1 at a latex glove conference in Long Beach, Calif. "I'm not here to convince you there's no problem, but to place the problem in perspective," he said.
Lim's point of view is understandable. Malaysia isn't the world's largest producer of NR anymore, but rubber remains a key component of its economy. Just as important, if not more so, Malaysia is the biggest supplier of NR medical gloves, a business worth $500 million annually to the country.
It's Lim's job to protect Malaysian NR's reputation. And, by his statistics, when only one user per 49 million gloves has an allergic reaction, the hue and cry over latex allergies is an inordinate concern.
Nurses feel otherwise. At the same meeting, a speaker from the American Nurses Association said no group is more likely to develop NR latex allergies than nurses. Her statistics show that as of April 1999, four nurses have died from anaphylactic shock brought on by their sensitivity to NR latex.
By all accounts, Malaysia has done a good job of policing its glove business. The nation has launched a well-constructed program with the aim of making Malaysian gloves the top quality, least allergenic gloves available.
The Malaysian NR industry can squawk all it wants about bad press concerning allergies. Just so long as it continues to address the problem.