Sun | Jan 21, 2018

Abka Fitz-Henley | Grave errors in dead babies' report

Published:Tuesday | October 25, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Abka Fitz-Henley
Public Defender Arlene Harrison Henry has been criticised in various quarters for gaps in her report on the deaths of preterm babies at the UHWI in 2015.

Public Defender Arlene Harrison Henry has stated that no bacterial infection outbreak took place at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) between June and October of 2015. Mrs Harrison Henry has premised her curious conclusion on evidence that she says was given to her by former UHWI chief of staff, Professor Trevor McCartney, who resigned amid the 2015 controversy. In her report, which has sparked public backlash, Mrs Harrison Henry professed to accept Professor McCartney as "a witness of truth".

Audio records confirm that the gentleman on whose word the public defender premised her conclusion that no outbreak took place at the UHWI neonatal unit, had publicly described the bacterial infections at the UHWI in June as an "outbreak" which, in August of that year, developed into a "bigger problem" and "a crisis" to the extent that he was compelled to inform the health ministry on September 7, 2015.

On November 15 that year, Professor McCartney stated on Nationwide Radio: "I have made it very clear that on September 7, the Ministry of Health was informed of the previous outbreak in June, which had been successfully treated." McCartney continued: "Come August, we realised that we had a bigger problem and, therefore, we contacted the Ministry of Health for assistance with the crisis."

The referenced public record confirms that Mrs Harrison Henry's conclusion that it is clear that Professor McCartney did not reckon "outbreak" to be an "applicable term to describe the infectious happenings at the UHWI" is both misleading and untrue.

Records also confirm that McCartney's pronouncements of an "outbreak", "a bigger problem" and "a crisis" all render as incredibly flawed and inaccurate Mrs Harrison's conclusion that nothing unusual took place at the UHWI between June and October of 2015.

The situation gets worse. National epidemiologst Dr Karen Webster; Permanent Secretary Dr Kevin Harvey; then portfolio minister, Fenton Ferguson; Chief Medical Officer Dr Marion Bullock-Ducasse; the then Jamaica Medical Doctors' Association president, Alfred Dawes; and the country's then prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller are all on public record as repeatedly describing as an outbreak what Mrs Harrison Henry has suggested did not transpire and has elected to refer to as mere "infectious happenings".

In her 'wisdom', the public defender chose not to interview any of the six above-mentioned authorities before arriving at her conclusion. She must tell the country why.




The public defender's claim that the concept of an outbreak was a media creation is also untrue. The facts are as follows. On October 16, 2015, Nationwide News Network reported that a bug was killing babies at the University Hospital of the West Indies and emergency measures had been activated to contain the situation. At no time during the initial reportage was the word 'outbreak' used.

Dr Bullock-Ducasse introduced the term 'outbreak' to describe the situation at the UHWI and Cornwall Regional.

At an emergency media conference called on October 19, 2015, Dr Bullock-Ducasse authoritatively used the term 'outbreak' at least twice. She said, "There were two outbreaks at the Cornwall Regional Hospital and the UHWI in June to July and then the current outbreak in both facilities. Forty-two babies were infected and, yes, 18 died."

Further to the above, it is astonishing that the public defender has suggested in her report that "the concept of an outbreak was a media creation". I challenge the public defender to supply evidence of local or international media reports prior to the health ministry's October 19, 2015 media conference that described the situation at the UHWI as an outbreak. Mrs Harrison Henry cannot so do because such reports do not exist.

Another astonishing observation about the public defender's so-called probe into the scandal is that Mrs Harrison Henry's office focused only on the UHWI. She admitted on public radio recently that she did not investigate the circumstances at the Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH), where the majority of the baby deaths occurred.

Former acting Public Defender Matondo Mukulu has described the failure to probe circumstances at CRH as unacceptable. It is no surprise that Mr Mukulu has said the report has "gaping holes". A Gleaner editorial has described Mrs Harrison Henry's report as a contortion, while current affairs commentator Mark Wignall has dubbed the document "suspect, shameful and a sham".

It is important that the public defender withdraw her report and also respond to the issues raised above if confidence is to be reposed in her office.

- Abka Fitz-Henley is the senior reporter at Nationwide News Network who broke the story concerning the UHWI baby deaths, which won him a Fair Play Award recently. Email feedback to and