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Chikungunya’s cost to Jamaica

Published:Sunday | October 19, 2014 | 5:04 PM

Chikungunya is now ravaging Jamaica, shutting down court cases, crippling productivity and, in some regretful instances, taking lives from complications associated with the virus. The minister of health, when the alarm bells were first rung by the Jamaica Labour Party's caretaker for Eastern St Thomas, said it was politicking and scare mongering on the part of the opposition party.

The minister of health was forced to admit, after much denial, that the country was dealing with an epidemic of chik-V.

The effects of an epidemic on a country's economic health are catastrophic, and the chik-V epidemic is no different. With the prediction of some 60 per cent of Jamaicans who will be affected by chik-V, that is one million, six hundred thousand Jamaicans, and with a downtime of 5-10 days, we are estimating a loss to the Jamaican economy of at least $30 million, using a daily wage of $2,000 per day. This is a very conservative estimate and is certainly not the type of loss to the island's income that Jamaica can afford in the throes of an IMF economic straightjacket.

A responsible and proactive Ministry of Health would have put out bulletins months before on how to prepare and avoid the chik-V virus. The rest of the Cabinet, had it likewise been responsible and proactive, would have ensured the country was kept clean and breeding grounds for the Aedes aegypti mosquito eradicated before the epidemic ran rampant.

Garbage collection

The National Solid Waste Management Authority had to confess in the middle of the chik-V epidemic that it was well short of resources in collecting garbage and in general cleaning the country, and so the health of the Jamaican people has simply been left to divine providence.

The minister and his Cabinet colleagues have demonstrated their lack of fundamental seriousness in dealing with the chikungunya virus. All Jamaicans are praying that the scourge of the Ebola virus will steer clear of the island of Jamaica, but with the complete bungling of how the current administration handled the chikungunya virus, Ebola, which has deadly consequences for its victims, cannot be handled in the same way.

When the opposition spokesman on health suggested weeks ago that there be a travel ban on persons from countries in west Africa afflicted with the Ebola virus, the minister of foreign affairs rubbished it with some nonsensical comments about it not really going to make a difference.

An American citizen who visited Liberia within 15 days of arriving in Jamaica changed that stance as the country's immigration and health officials scrambled with an appropriate response and landed the individual, only to reverse decision within a few hours after the individual was released in the general population and sent the individual out of Jamaica.

The minister of health kept his job despite his glaring ineptitude in handling the chikungunya crisis because, according to the prime minister, he helped her clean her constituency. This is the leadership we have from the number one public servant: always putting politics before the people's health.

A doctor at the University Hospital of the West Indies in charge of communicable diseases and the like said recently on a radio interview last week that the biggest failure on the part of the Ministry of Health was not communicating with the people, especially health officials, on the extent of the chikungunya crisis and how to deal with it.

Chikugunya epicentre

The opposition spokesman on health, Dr Kenneth Baugh, who had to deal with a polio outbreak scare back in 1983 and who handled that so effectively hardly anyone remembers it, has consistently said that the current administration has to set up a chikungunya epicentre and go out into the country and aggressively track down those infected with the chikungunya virus so as to get a clear appreciation of the extent of the crisis and to stop it from spreading.

The minister of health has said that he wants to get the chikungunya virus to see how it feels so that he can appreciate what thousands of us have experienced with this dreadful life-changing chikungunya virus.

Is that the best crisis management strategy he can come up with? He should do the decent thing and resign immediately, as his ability to manage the health portfolio of the country has been wanting.

n Kent Gammon is an attorney-at-law and JLP junior spokesman on mining, energy and commerce. Email feedback to and