Mon | Dec 5, 2016

Riding Dr Ferguson’s nag

Published:Friday | March 6, 2015 | 12:00 AM

The health ministry has officially announced that it has begun research, with the help of Jamaican and other Caribbean experts, into last year's epidemic of the chikungunya virus on the island, hoping, among other things, to determine just how pervasive the disease was.

This development follows a call last November by Fenton Ferguson, the health minister, for the collaboration of private researchers in such an effort, at a time when the Government's management of the outbreak was under attack and his own credibility was in even worse tatters than at present. The cynics will no doubt see any such study as part of a continuing effort by Dr Ferguson at rehabilitation.

We won't venture that route, for this newspaper believes in the value of scientific analysis and evaluation. So, what the health ministry finds should provide a better handle on the prevalence of the disease in Jamaica, national susceptibility to the virus, and how best its symptoms and its vector, the Aedes aegypti mosquito, should be best managed.

 

the art of effective communication

 

Having said that, there are some things that no student of the kind of scientific research being undertaken by his ministry can teach Dr Fenton, but which he deserves to know, and if he had understood, would have caused less angst to tens of thousands of Jamaicans. These include the art of effective communication and the fact that the management of health care is not a political chess game.

Sure, we had never felt Dr Ferguson to be a good minister, nor that he had the makings of one - for any portfolio. His grandiose ideas, when given Jamaica's economic realities, he should be focused on primary health care, left us with the sense of Dr Ferguson as a caricatured figure. Chik-V propelled him to the realm of a politically driven Don Quixote.

First, any negative statement about the prevalence of the virus in Jamaica was a perceived political windmill to be denied or preferably attacked. So, every bit of ckikungunya jousting by the Opposition's Delano Seiveright was cause for the health minister to mount his nag in battle against virus-decimated denizens who dared to draw attention to the ravages of the disease. Dangerous fifth columnists, in so far as we can tell, they seemed to minister Ferguson.

 

strangulation of truth

 

The mirage of political hordes shaped how Dr Ferguson, and ultimately his lieutenants communicated about chikungunya. Sentences were parsed and data presented in forms so as to, without delivering a lie, be the strangulation of truth. So, with estimates that up to 60 per cent of the Jamaican population would, ultimately, be affected by the virus, and vast swathes already succumbing to its attacks, Dr Ferguson spoke of "laboratory-confirmed" cases. Such adjectival phrases carried little meaning, or were hardly heard in the face of people's experience.

The upshot was that the 'damn lies' of statistics, rather than offering an alternative truth, were seen for what they were, as Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller understood when she took control of the chik-V response effort. The research may have value, but so, too, would be an accelerated public-health effort at cleaning up Jamaica and denying the Aedes aegypti mosquito of the environment in which they breed best.