Sat | Dec 10, 2016

Lessons to be learnt for 2015

Published:Monday | January 12, 2015 | 12:00 AM

The New Year has been greeted by some exciting news in the field of medicine. First, we have learnt that medical history was created at the Hargreaves Memorial Hospital in Mandeville, Manchester, where complex spinal was successfully carried out last month.

The other promising news concerns two vaccines, which appear to have the potential to treat the deadly Ebola disease that has viciously attacked some countries in West Africa and caused the rest of the world to cower in fear. The two have been declared safe for trial.

At Hargreaves, we learnt that spinal surgery was conducted on a 92-year-old patient using the key-hole technique. After three hours, the patient, who had suffered excruciating pain prior to surgery, was able to walk and was pain-free. Her hospital stay was a mere three days. The surgery was reportedly carried out with equipment provided by a medical technology company. Not to be overlooked is the importance of partnerships in the quest to deliver adequate health care to the nation.

As great as this news is, it is small comfort to the scores of patients who continue to squeeze into waiting rooms at public hospitals and clinics, languishing for hours before they are eventually seen by a doctor. We have heard repeatedly about the lack of equipment and the paucity of resources to do even the simplest of procedures, and this means that many of our citizens are being denied access to health care. Always, it is the poor who suffer more.

While we whine and criticise the ramshackle facilities, though, one thing that is unquestionable is the unswerving commitment and dedication of the medical staff who work under trying situations to keep members of society healthy. No wonder so many of our top-flight medical personnel have taken their skills and talents to countries such as the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. Jamaica remains the poorer for this and has been placed in the awkward position of having to recruit personnel to fill vacancies in its health service.

Then there is the important announcement of two promising vaccines to treat the deadly Ebola virus. While there are about six drugs being tested, these two appear to be way out there. One is being developed by pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, and the other experimental vaccine has been licensed by Merck and NewLink. Both vaccines have been given the green light for testing on human beings.

 

MORE THAN 8,000 DEATHS

 

More than 8,000 deaths in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia have been blamed on the current outbreak of Ebola, and this includes about 500 health-care workers who have been battling the disease on the frontlines. The number of fatalities obviously quickened the pace of research, and now, the vaccines are to be tested on persons over a six-month period.

Ebola causes severe haemorrhagic fever - which includes profuse organ bleeding - and as many as 90 per cent of infected persons die from shock, bleeding, and multi-organ failure.

Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson, who has been harshly criticised for his mishandling of the chikungunya crisis, is much more proactive in the approach to staving off Ebola, or at least he is prepared to deal with it if it arrives on our shores.

We take note of a statement issued in the press by the minister advising of a three-pronged approach, including border security, with innovations such as the introduction of thermal-sensing equipment at the island's two international airports, combined with health-management strategy and the continuation of a public-education programme this month.

Hopefully, lessons learned from the chikungunya epidemic will help the country cope effectively with any threat from Ebola.