Don't play political football with chik-V deaths
It would be remiss of me to not add to the front-page Gleaner story titled 'Chik-V death rage - Ferguson under fire as concerns grow over mounting body count' (February 24, 2015).
St Thomas Eastern, the likely epicentre of the epidemic and the notoriously neglected constituency of the health minister, has seen a series of grave-diggings, nine nights and funerals for persons who died from suspected chikungunya-related complications. Among the dead are students, a labourer, a businessman, a helper, several elderly persons, and the list goes on.
That our medical professionals continue to use terms such as "high index of suspicion" for suspected chikungunya deaths as people become more alarmed about its devastating impact is absolutely unacceptable. The Ministry of Health should be condemned for remaining silent and doing nothing about the rising fatalities. It at the very least suggests to onlookers that human life to the health minister and his team has no meaning whatsoever.
As stated in a December 2014 Gleaner column, if the Ministry of Health is to be believed, up to 60 per cent of the population, or more than 1.6 million persons, may be affected by chikungunya. Post-chikungunya awareness is extremely poor, and there is no known official record of chikungunya fatalities to date. From my own research, this is true in other CARICOM countries where reporting protocols seem non-existent or are unclear at best.
On the flip side, the French-ruled Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe with populations of around 400,000 each reported up to mid-September 2014, 55 and 49 chikungunya-linked deaths, respectively. Beyond that, the 2005-2006 chikungunya epidemic in Reunion Island, a French-ruled Indian Ocean island with a population under 800,000 with more than 250,000 affected, claimed more than 230 lives.
Jamaica, with many times the population of each island, from logical deduction will have higher fatalities. In St Thomas alone, I am personally aware of 16 suspected chikungunya-related fatalities.
Unfortunately, maybe for yet again political reasons, the health ministry has not instituted any internationally accepted protocols to account for chikungunya-related fatalities, especially given the simple fact that it is an abnormal health phenomenon affecting a very significant proportion of the population.
The ministry is adopting the same insensitive and ham-fisted approach to chikungunya-related fatalities as it did with its reckless and absurd multi-weeklong song and dance about low confirmed case count despite thousands of persons overwhelming health centres and private doctors' offices with chikungunya symptoms.
With it's integrity in shambles, the Ministry of Health desperately needs new leadership.
- Delano Seiveright is opposition caretaker for St Thomas Eastern.