Chikungunya spells death
The Reverend Glen Archer, our champion spelling coach, seems to have died from chik-V complications. According to a Gleaner article published last Sunday, "He had been suffering from renal failure for the past five years, requiring dialysis two to three times per week. But his condition worsened in December when he got the chikungunya virus."
I don't suppose the Ministry of Health would count Reverend Archer's death as chik-V-related. He was probably not a 'confirmed' case. But there is so much anecdotal evidence of death as a result of the virus. Why has the ministry refused to acknowledge the high number of suspected cases?
And why has chik-V vanished from the news? It certainly has not left the bodies of its victims. Many of us are still suffering: fingers cramped up; feet hurting; constant pain all over with very little prospect of lasting relief. Chik-V is now chronic. It's stale news.
Apart from the announcement of Reverend Archer's death and Dr Shane Alexis' warning of worsening complications ('Chik-V combo', February 12, 2015), one of the most recent references to chik-V on the Gleaner website turned up in Dr Michael Abrahams' amusing poem, '2014 Year in Review', posted on January 5, 2015: "Chik-V pop dung almost everybody." Dr Abrahams' estimate of the spread of the disease is much higher than that of the Ministry of Health. And probably far more accurate!
OUT OF NOWHERE?
On the Observer's website, the report on Reverend Archer's death published last Monday also pointed fingers at chik-V. Before that, the latest reference to chik-V appeared in Mrs Barbara Gloudon's column, 'From chik-V to scepticism in the nation's health care', published on January 9, 2015. Neither Dr Abrahams' poem nor Mrs Gloudon's opinion piece is hard-core news.
Mrs Gloudon proposed that chik-V "could be regarded as one of the most disturbing events we have experienced in a long time". And, as a veteran journalist, she fully understands how news works. So she adds: "One is tempted to brand it a nine-day wonder ... ." That's the temptation, the media, in all their forms always, have to resist - the big story that quickly burns out.
Mrs Gloudon doesn't end her sentence there. She continues, "but it has turned out to be more than that". Chik-V is noteworthy "for the sneakiness of its attack and how painful the hurt it brought us, the likes of which we had never known before. The pains still continue for many.
"Last September, when out of nowhere it descended on us, the minister of health soon became eligible for the unenviable title of most battered politician of the year. Beaten into submission by the growing tide of public disaffection over chik-V, the national health system trembled."
But chik-V did not sneak up on us. It did not descend from nowhere. In 2011, the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned us that chik-V was coming. They jointly published a document, Preparedness and Response for Chikungunya Virus Introduction in the Americas.
NO BETTER PORK
I don't know when that document reached Jamaica. Unless it arrived after December 29, 2011, the Jamaica Labour Party would have been the government in office. Was the minister of health, Dr Baugh, aware of the threat of chik-V? And, if so, what did he do about it?
In an article published in the Observer on September 26, 2014, with the headline, 'Baugh: Chikungunya now a full-blown epidemic', the former minister of health speaks out: "According to Dr Baugh, all the doubts raised by the Government in response to the Opposition's complaints about the uncontrolled spread of chikungunya in Jamaica have now been erased. He accused the Government of being arrogant and out of touch with reality on the ground."
Dr Baugh is right. But it's a case of no better pork, no better barrel. Both the JLP and the PNP failed us. Chik-V should not have come on us like a thief in the night. The security guards should not have been sleeping on the job. I suppose the JLP government was too busy campaigning in 2011 to pay attention to chik-V.
But what's the 'excuse' of the present Government? In May 2012, PAHO and the CDC put on a training workshop on chik-V at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel. Fourteen people from Jamaica attended that meeting. Did they spread the word? It doesn't seem so. They should all be fired for negligence.
I recently gave an old lady a ride to the University Hospital. She thought she had chik-V. A friend of hers had recommended kerosene oil for the rash. After using it one time, she stopped. She didn't like how her skin was looking.
One of the tragedies of the chik-V epidemic is that the medical doctors had no idea how to help us. At first, they prescribed Panadol. And that was it. Then they added steroids to their bag of tricks. So we resorted to all kinds of self-medication: leaf of life, bissy, guinea hen weed, sincle bible, kerosene oil!
If chik-V didn't kill us, the combination of 'cures' certainly could. The doctor who tried her best to treat my unconfirmed chik-V told me recently that a new strain of the virus is on its way. And dengue is here as well. PAHO estimates that there may be more deaths from dengue than chik-V across the Caribbean. Only God can help us.
- Carolyn Cooper is a teacher of English language and literature. Visit her bilingual blog at http://carolynjoycooper.wordpress.com.