Wed | Aug 16, 2017

Editorial: Casual approach of health ministry

Published:Saturday | October 3, 2015 | 10:00 AM

The current outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease that is rapidly spreading throughout Jamaica's schools underscores the need for the country to develop an agile public-health system that can readily respond to the emergence of infectious diseases.

Whether they are new and virulent strains of old diseases such as the flu or new diseases such as Ebola, containing these diseases and minimising the impact on lives and property ought to be the main priority of the Government.

True, it is impossible to predict what will appear, when and where, especially with so many people regularly travelling across borders. However, as the department charged with the responsibility of protecting the nation's health, the Ministry of Health ought to have developed some strategy to enhance the country's ability to respond to any epidemic or infectious-disease outbreak.

It is hard to detect what is the strategy over at the Ministry of Health. And there is no public-health action that has been taken to convince us that the nation's health is in good hands. Lately, we have heard doctors and other health professionals passing judgement on the decaying public-health infrastructure riddled by shortages and other inadequacies, thereby rendering it incapable of responding to the health-care needs of the country.

News reports indicated that confusion greeted the first cases of hand, foot and mouth disease that were detected in a Portmore basic school last week. Some students were reportedly diagnosed with chickenpox, while others were told that they had scabies. After it was determined that the children were, in fact, affected by hand, foot and mouth disease, some schools were closed and a sanitisation exercise was carried out.

 

Slow response

 

We believe if the Ministry of Health had acted with urgency, the proper decisions could have been taken by other institutions to close their doors and thereby contain the disease. We are reminded of the ministry's casual response to the chikungunya epidemic in 2014, downplaying the seriousness of the disease as it was determined to be no worse than the common cold.

The country was never prepared for the debilitating effects of the disease and the toll it would have on persons with pre-existing conditions. The Ministry of Health has still not given the country a tally of the number of persons who died from complications of chik-V. And like the proverbial nine-day wonder, we have forgotten this egregious wrong to the citizens of this country.

Health experts point to a number of environmental factors that can have a significant impact on the spread of infectious diseases. These include rapid urbanisation, overcrowding, improper disposal of garbage and other waste, and also the lack of water. We are right now in the grips of a severe drought and so the washing of hands is often neglected. There ought to be strong coordination between the health and education ministries to speedily detect and protect the school population from any infectious-disease threats.

It is imperative that the equipment, staff and necessary resources be found to ensure that the suffering on the population is minimised from the effects of infectious diseases, whether food or water-borne, or from vectors.