Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Transparency and the silly season

Published:Thursday | November 5, 2015 | 11:00 AMJaevion Nelson, Contributor

THE POLITICAL silly season is upon us already. Scandals are highly probable and sentiments will only get more ludicrous. Unfortunately, we the people - the electorate that is expected to exercise our franchise by voting - will have to suffer this. We will be forced to pander to politicians' incendiary and outlandish remarks about the challenges we are bombarded with on a daily basis in their attempt to secure victory for themselves and their party.

One of the most unfortunate and unethical things that I have observed over the years as a young Jamaican is the god-awful practice of knowing about some of these issues and keeping them a secret until it's close to an election. However, while the timing might be odd on occasion, one of the only good things about this is the attention almost every issue gets. Everything becomes a matter of national concern and maybe if we are lucky, the call for accountability isn't as difficult. Our leaders somehow manage to move with alacrity in these times. They divorce lip service to taking decisive actions on some of the urgent matters that need to be addressed.

 

THE FLIP SIDE

On the flip side, obtaining information on critical issues is even more difficult to get hold of because everyone is more cautious at this time. One can't risk the public knowing too much or anything at all about some things.

While it is important that the information about the untimely deaths of the 19 babies be made public, I think the reports in the media and reaction by officials will not do justice to response that the situation warrants. Politicking is likely to take precedence rather than the lives lost. We won't know enough, and those who should be held accountable are likely to become defensive. More of us won't ask the right questions. It is unlikely that we will get full disclosure and it is unlikely that the right things will be done to further mitigate these incidents from reoccurring.

Based on reports in the media, 19 preterm babies died at the Cornwall Regional Hospital and University Hospital of the West Indies in the last three or so months. Preterm birth, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), refers to 'the birth of an infant before 37 weeks of pregnancy'. Data about the number of lives births before 37 weeks and the number/ percentage of those infants that die are not readily available. However, a Jamaica Observer news report in 2012 revealed that in 2010, 5,200 of the 50,600 live births that occurred in that year happened before their time. Of this number, 200 or 3.8 per cent of these preterm babies died from complications. In that same year, the Jamaica Observer published a report on October 4, quoting a medical professional: "We have limited facilities here for rehabilitation of premature babies. The neonatal intensive care facilities are limited and, therefore, there is a high mortality rate for this group of babies, but we have managed to work with the system that is in place."

The 2012 Global Action Report on Preterm Birth - Gone Too Soon - states that preterm birth rates are increasing worldwide and "Prematurity is the leading cause of newborn deaths (babies in the first four weeks of life) and now the second leading cause of death after pneumonia in children under the age of 5". The statement last Tuesday by the chairmen of the Regional Health Authorities states that the rate of death in Jamaica since 2013 is 12 out of every 1,000 live births, but we need to know more than this.

I commend the minister of health and his team on the actions taken thus far to address this urgent matter. However, I think it is prudent that going forward the following information be provided:

1. The number and percentage of preterm babies born in Jamaica in the last 10 years.

2. The number and percentage of preterm babies that died in the last 10 years, the public-health facility where they were born and the cause for each death.

3. The protocols or standards of care hat guide how health-care workers treat with preterm babies.

This information can be disaggregated by parish and year and include other data such as their weight, sex, and number of weeks and months they lived before they died. It is pertinent that we know what the data says and what problems there are to move forward.

- Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.