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Has chik-V taught our leaders anything?

Published:Monday | October 6, 2014 | 10:00 AM
Robert Lalah

Now there's Ebola for us to worry about. Yes, worry, while not often useful, does seem appropriate in this case. Thursday's lead story, 'Ebola panic' was as frightening as it was inevitable. The story revealed that Jamaica's health workers do not have the safety gear needed to treat persons infected with the Ebola virus. That, perhaps, would not surprise many who've had the need to call upon the services of our local health facilities. But more revealing were the quotes attributed to doctors at the University Hospital of the West Indies.

One doctor, who was participating in a workshop called to discuss the issue, said: "If the Government doesn't supply us with these things, who is going out to work? We in the (Intensive Care Unit) are not going to deal with it. I'm not going to expose my doctors and nurses to that. So Accident and Emergency will have to decide what they are going to do with the first (case)."

What this quote offers is a glimpse into the often ignored human side of health workers. Though sworn to treat the sick, they are, of course, people too and are prone to the same fears and misgivings as anyone else. So while they often perform superhuman acts, they are susceptible to human emotions and will, by default, almost always privilege selfish concerns. They can't be blamed for that any more than they can be blamed for being human.

But this insight into a senior doctor's feelings on the way the Government has (not?) equipped the health sector should rightly leave us all worried. The Ebola virus has not (yet) reached our shores and already we have a doctor saying that neither he nor his colleagues will have anything to do with the first case that presents itself at hospital.

So where does that leave us, the average taxpaying, law-abiding Joes and Janes who make up this great nation? How are we going to collectively react to this news?

What's past is prologue. For so many years, we have accepted mediocre leadership because to demand and force change would require too much from us. As long as we can individually go about our days with relative ease, this has for a very long time been good enough. Sure, we complain about the way our elected representatives lead the country, but that's as far as it goes for most of us. Now, will this very real danger of Ebola landing on our shores help us realise how absolutely essential it is for a nation to have good leaders?

Jamaica is paradise

We have many issues to contend with in Jamaica. But usually, a Jamaican who has lived abroad for a while, or has travelled extensively, will be quick to point out that despite our challenges, Jamaica is paradise.

Just spend an hour watching international news on TV and you'll see that we have it pretty good here. But this doesn't mean we should bury our heads in the sand and pretend that we live in a bubble. We don't. Nearly all the afflictions that plague societies the world over could someday come knocking on our door. Terrorism, environmental crises, wars and, yes, deadly epidemics are real threats to us here in Jamaica, and the sooner we realise this, the better prepared we'll be if ever we're forced to face them.

When we elect leaders, our thoughts rarely transcend parochial concerns, so what we inevitably end up with are leaders who are capable only of managing affairs on the local level. And even that leaves some of them struggling.

The time has come for us to broaden our vision. We need to asses our leaders' abilities to manage not only Christmas-work programmes and celebration events for sporting achievements. We need to choose leaders who are capable of stepping up to the plate and actually leading the nation if the big crises arrive. Is our current crop fit and ready for the big challenges? Do global economic meltdowns actually affect us here in Jamaica? Has the chik-V outbreak taught us anything?

That our own ambivalence and apathy would lead us here was inevitable. But as the threat of Ebola increases each day, we should, as a people, realise now more than ever that while we've historically been comfortable keeping our thoughts local, our concerns and threats are now global. The chickens have come home to roost.

Robert Lalah is features editor at The Gleaner and author of 'Roving with Lalah - Slices of Everyday Jamaican Life'. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and robert.lalah@gleanerjm.com.