In defence of Fenton
Regrettably, our propensity for unnecessary controversy and political one-upmanship have become disturbing features of Jamaican politics, and the current calls for the resignation of Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson, over his perceived "mishandling of the chikungunya outbreak", is the latest manifestation of this problem.
As the member of parliament for one of the 63 constituencies that have been impacted by the work of Dr Ferguson, I cannot remain a silent voice in a situation where a communication error is being used to malign an individual whose overall ministerial performance has been significant and has helped place Jamaica at the forefront of regional health-consciousness.
Let's look first at the chikungunya outbreak. The main charge is that Dr Ferguson was in denial of the effects of the outbreak and did not show adequate leadership in this regard.
Without documented evidence, should the minister have made unfounded and explosive statements about the status of the outbreak, given the fragility of our economy and the importance of the tourism industry to Jamaica? Dr Ferguson has confirmed that this was one of the major considerations in using the official confirmed data.
Perhaps he could have drawn a wider picture earlier, in galvanising the nation towards a clean-up drive and a greater awareness of our personal hygienic and environmental responsibility. However, I note that this was already being done through the ministry's communication network which, admittedly, should have been more effective.
But should this single communication lapse give rise to a call for the resignation of an individual who has not only given 20 years of unbroken and dedicated service as a legislator and public servant to our nation but also one whose record as minister of health forcefully negates such a call?
The health ministry has tackled the alarmingly high incidence of 60 per cent of Jamaicans dying from non-communicable diseases like diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease and chronic respiratory diseases, and has developed a strategic plan to tackle the four major risk factors - smoking, alcohol abuse, unhealthy eating and physical inactivity.
Have we already forgotten the tremendous fight the minister has had to wage against powerful forces that have opposed long-overdue anti-smoking legislation?
The National Health Fund is moving into all hospitals and health centres to take over all facilities and deliver a new level of service. There were only 50 pharmacists and 101 pharmacy technicians operating in the island's health facilities. This is being increased to 155 pharmacists, 101 technicians and 64 supply-chain staff running the 23 hospitals across Jamaica, along with those that operate at health centres. Twenty-four-hour pharmacy service is to be introduced at some hospitals and service is to be extended at several health centres.
More than $375 million has been spent on infrastructural upgrading of hospitals, including St Ann's Bay, Annotto Bay, Princess Margaret, Black River, Mandeville, Bustamante, Bellevue, Cornwall Regional and Savanna-la-Mar.
Seventeen ambulances and 54 vehicles have been added across all health regions to support various areas, including mental health, vector control and emergency services.
A National Health Information System, to move from a paper-based system to electronic storage and retrieval of patient health records, has been introduced.
UPGRADE ON THE WAY
A programme to upgrade the physical infrastructure of the public-health sector is under way as part of the drive to improve services to the people.
Under the primary health care infrastructure programme, work is continuing on the renovation of 100 health centres and, under the primary-care centres of excellence project, work has commenced on the establishment of four centres of excellence with work far advanced on three - Isaac Barrant in St Thomas, Darliston in Westmoreland, and Santa Cruz in St Elizabeth .
New X-Ray equipment has been earmarked for the Princess Margaret, Mandeville Regional, Annotto Bay and May Pen hospitals, and a task force was established to develop a framework for the optimal use of medical equipment and to standardise equipment procurement.
With the help of Digicel, Sagicor and Chain of Hope, work is proceeding on the construction of a $140-million cardiac wing at the Bustamante Hospital for Children, which will make it the only facility in the Caribbean with a specialist cardiac wing for children.
These are but a few of the ministry's accomplishments, under Dr Ferguson's leadership. As a colleague and the representative of a constituency and a people who have benefited significantly from his work, I feel an obligation to set the record straight.