If Ebola should come knocking
Gordon Robinson, Columnist
Editor's Note: This column was submitted on September 29, before news broke of a case of Ebola in the United States.
Because Jamaicans love political games, we continue this farcical call to arms over the chikungunya virus.
It's reached such a stage of unreasoned hyperbole that a child tragically falls in the shower, hits his head and dies, but blinkered, sensation-seeking media gleefully repeat the rumour he was also suffering from chik-V-type symptoms. Without having the courage to come right out and allege chik-V killed him, media never fail to include chik-V in every report. Thank goodness for good, old Jamaican sense of humour.
A weh de docta a prescribe fi it?
'One Panadol, one Panadol quick!'
Oonu come ya, oonu no hear wha dey dung ya
una de flu; measle; pneumonia;
A diarrhoea mek pickney belly run ya
but a de first we a hear chicken gun ya.
It remains true, as I wrote in my September 23 column, 'Chicken goons ya': "Serious complications aren't common, but, in older people, chikungunya can contribute to the cause of death,"especially where pre-existing conditions cause "serious complications". But, the real news is that Jamaica has a mosquito-eradication problem because we prioritise external debt payments, new SUVs for ministers, and Grand Galas over health. So we must protect ourselves from the mosquito holocaust.
Mosquito bite inna foot and it a bite inna neck.
Mek sure sey yu 'ave yu mosquito net.
Wey yu sey? Yu can't ketch it? Yu wan' stick a bet?
Check de hole inna yu backyard where water collect.
Me inna longsleeve, t'ink a bleach me a bleach?
Me a stay outta de mosquito reach.
That's not sexy enough for our commercially challenged media, which create never-ending contention over how many chik-V cases exist. Nobody acknowledges that no country knows the total number affected by any epidemic.
Why aren't media asking our health officials whether we're prepared for the possible arrival of Ebola, which, despite the nonsense bruited about, is very much a global epidemic in the making. We had a recent rumour of an alleged Ebola victim here. This is how the health ministry quelled the rumour.
Dr Kevin Harvey, acting permanent secretary in the health ministry:
"I ... categorically state ... we have no suspected case of Ebola in the country. We aren't investigating a suspected case and we have no reason to consider we have anyone in the country at this time suspected of having Ebola. I want to dispel rumours surrounding a patient who was admitted to University Hospital yesterday afternoon. The person is, in fact, a 65-year-old senior physician who travelled to Trinidad, returned to [Jamaica] feeling ill ... and was admitted to the hospital. There's absolutely no travel history to any Ebola-affected country or possibility of contact." (Gleaner, September 25).
Despite existing, accessible testing centres, no tests for Ebola were attempted. According to Harvey, there's no way Ebola can come to Jamaica, because Ebola-affected nations carefully screen all travellers before permitting them to leave. Well, goody, goody-two-shoes! Forget science! Let's just assume.
- The recent Ebola epidemic death toll officially exceeds 3,000, but World Health Organization says these numbers "vastly underestimate the true scale of the epidemic".
- Although the hardest-hit countries are in West Africa (Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone), WHO says it's growing "exponentially". In the Democratic Republic of Congo, thousands of miles away on the other side of Africa, there's a "separate, unrelated outbreak of Ebola" (believed to be a different strain of the viral haemorrhagic fever) that's killed more than 40;
- This time around, the virus is killing from 70 to 90 per cent of victims.
- These numbers are greater than all previous Ebola outbreaks combined. The disease is spreading and threatening to become a global epidemic.
- The United Nations recently held a special high-level meeting on Ebola at its annual General Assembly. US President Barack Obama called Ebola a "horrific disease" that's "a potential threat to the world". President Obama warned that while the world had started to launch its response, "We need to be honest with ourselves. It's not enough."
- Addressing the meeting, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, "Ebola is raging", while other heads of state warned that Ebola threatens the world.
- Sierra Leone's President Ernest Koroma, speaking by teleconference, said, "Ebola isn't only a disease of Sierra Leone and its neighbours; it's a disease of the world." He explained: "Globalisation, increasing urbanisation and denser networks of people rapidly moving between rural and urban areas and across borders are fuel for greater transmission of formerly isolated viral diseases."
Mind Jah lick yu wid diseases (hey).
Mind Jah lick yu wid diseases.
De mos' dangerous diseases.
I sey de mos' dangerous diseases.
I talking like de elephantitis (sic)
De odder one is de poliomyelitis (sic);
arthritis and de one diabetes.
To butcher a phrase famously used by our intrepid works minister, we can
continue to get excited over "two mosquito" carrying a not-so-serious
viral disease that'll soon run its course. Or we can get serious about
preparing for the possible advent of Ebola rather than depending on
countries like Sierra Leone to stop it from spreading. African health
services have buckled under the strain of the Ebola crisis. There's NO
GUARANTEE, no matter what Dr Harvey says, that travellers from anywhere
in today's global village don't come here accompanied by an unpleasant,
Legendary DJ duo, (Papa) Michigan, born Anthony
Fairclough, and (General) Smiley, born Errol Bennett, ruled the
dancehall roost in the late 1970s-early 1980s with feel-good melodies,
conscious messages and unique singjay stylings. They combined to produce
several monster hits, including Nice Up The Dance;
Sugar Daddy, and Diseases.
Research was a much-maligned endeavour by producers and artistes of the
time so nobody bothered to tell Michi or Smiley that the diseases of
which they were warning were actually elephantiasis and polio, unrelated
to inflamed elephants or horseback
The Chikungunya Song,
recently recorded by 12-year-old sensation Wayne J, has jumped all over
chik-V hysteria like Lovindeer on Gilbert.
good news. Ebola isn't spread by respiratory secretions or casual
contact. It's not an airborne virus. It requires direct contact with the
bodily fluids of someone severely ill with or recently deceased from
Ebola, or by handling or eating undercooked, contaminated 'bush meat'
(e.g., bats or monkeys). This means we CAN prepare for Ebola. We CAN
avoid contracting this disease using easier strategies than dodging
As in many of these viral
enemies, the fundamental defence is good hygiene, especially frequent
hand-washing, and wearing of gloves when caring for or handling sick
relatives. For the moment (experiments on possible vaccines and
alternative case management is ongoing), treatment is symptomatic, as in
all viral infections.
Here are some things a government like
Jamaica's can do to prepare to restrict the spread of a virus like
Ebola. We need an efficient system of case management, surveillance and
contact tracing. All this can be summed up in one word: technology. So,
my first question to our gregarious health minister is: Are we equipped
to track and trace infection origins and manage Ebola cases in proper
A good laboratory service is
also essential in order for speedy diagnosis. Because Ebola is
contagious even after death, safe burials must be a priority. Do we have
a system of safe burials? Are we prepared to stop Jamaican mourners'
barbaric habit of proving devotion by close contact with the bodies of
As is the case for all infectious
diseases, social-mobilisation agencies must be ready to inform and
educate citizens. If, perish the thought, Ebola should come knocking,
would we use the same social-mobilisation services and communication
skills we used with chik-V?
Banning cigarette smoking
and decriminalising marijuana are attractive, vote-getting toys.
Whipping up chik-V panic may be sound political counter-strategy. But,
we can't afford to ignore the real health demons lurking around every
corner of today's global village. It's best to have a plan should any
decide to play in our backyard.
Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email