Sun | Jan 20, 2019

Editorial | Fighting dengue on all fronts

Published:Monday | January 7, 2019 | 12:00 AM

As tempting as it might be for politicians from both the Government and Opposition to score points on the dengue outbreak sweeping swathes of southeast Jamaica and other sections of the island, we urge the narcissists to be mature in seeking solutions and forging partnerships to stave off further death and debilitation.

Whether or not Health Minister Christopher Tufton and technocrats were derelict in their oversight, it is apparent that urgent appeals by concerned citizens in late 2017 and early last year, not least among them Gleaner columnist Patria-Kaye Aarons, were not acted on with alacrity, if not pooh-poohed altogether.

Dr Tufton has even patted himself on the back in saying that the current outbreak is less than a third of the suspected cases for 2016, which numbered around 2,600. But the health minister's penchant for hewing to technicality betrays a tone-deafness that could lose him valuable public support on a matter of life and death. For the impact of death from disease, especially involving children, cannot only be measured in numbers, but in its shock to public confidence in the system of detection and treatment.

That is why Dr Tufton and the chief medical officer, Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie, among other technical officials in the health ministry, should urgently review the architecture and reporting relationships within it to determine whether there needs be a redeployment of manpower and other resources to improve the efficacy of its reaction to outbreaks of dengue and other fatal diseases.

The health ministry may also assess whether its staff on the ground were alert enough in evaluating symptoms and triggering swiftly best-practice next steps in initiating treatment. Also of concern is whether private health providers are recording and passing on data in good time to the regional health authorities. For a breakdown in that system could also compound the emerging dengue fever dilemma.

 

TOO SLOW

 

Dr Tufton should have learnt from the template of the chikungunya and Zika outbreaks of 2014 and 2016, respectively, in Jamaica. Political and bureaucratic officials were too slow to raise national awareness about the scale of the dangers of the mosquito-borne diseases and preferred to engage in public-relations spin and sophistry. Then Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson, of the People's National Party administration of Portia Simpson Miller, eventually fell on his sword in another health scandal over dead babies.

The mouldy mess afflicting Cornwall Regional Hospital should have given Dr Tufton a lesson in frontally addressing public concerns and aggressively pursuing sustainable solutions. Obfuscation will only earn suspicion and distract from a multipronged assault on deadly dengue.