Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Whose hands bear babies' blood?

Published:Sunday | October 25, 2015 | 10:00 AM
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller is as much to blame as Fenton Ferguson for the series of fiascos affecting the health sector, argues Marlon Morgan.
Marlon Morgan
Health Minister Fenton Ferguson is under fire for his handling of the recent klebsiella and serratia outbreak and other crises in the health sector.
Dr Alfred Dawes
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There is no denying the egregious breakdown in the management and functioning of the public-health system under Dr Fenton Ferguson as minister. The spectre of crisis that is gripping the health sector, not the least of which is the reported deaths of 18 babies and infection of 42, stems from the minister's poor stewardship and lacklustre leadership, and the Government's dismal failure in securing the means of adequately funding the sector, so it can at least deliver on core deliverables.

The fiscal strictures wrought by the Government's economic recovery programme, coupled with its failure to secure growth in the economy, which would generate the revenue necessary to provide critical social services, is having a deleterious effect on virtually every area of Government.

And while that is so, it is downright unacceptable for the Government to be short-changing this crucial area of operation - public health care - which has everything to do with life and death. The Government's failures cannot and should not be separated from the crises bedevilling the sector and the unravelling dead baby scandal.

It is quite evident that the Government had no clue that the widespread economic malaise and the mayhem rocking the public health-care system were what a 7.5 per cent primary surplus target meant, yet it boasts that it is passing International Monetary Fund tests.

The public should readily discern the pattern of ministerial negligence and tardiness where effective responses are concerned on the part of Dr Ferguson. He may well be classified the minister of death and destruction. First, there was chik-V, which the Government was warned about from as early as 2012.

OTHER SORE POINTS

Then recently, there were numerous reported cases of gastroenteritis as a result of widespread use of untreated water as persons grappled with the unrelenting drought. The poor handling of the hand, foot and mouth disease, which has been affecting many of our children and schools, is also a sore point.

And if all of that were not enough, two weeks ago, we were told to bear the burden and distress of a vastly increased population of menacing mosquitoes until the authorities decide to ramp up fogging and other vector-control initiatives.

In May, the Jamaica Medical Doctors' Association convened a press conference at which its then president, Dr Alfred Dawes, outlined a slew of shortcomings that would make any stakeholder cringe; let alone a portfolio minister. Dr Dawes spoke of chronic resource shortages, including antiseptic for hand-washing and other sanitation purposes, which made conditions rife for the spread of infectious diseases.

Arrogance and pomposity on the part of the minister were palpable in his retort to Dawes' observations, as he moved to commission an audit of the public-health system. The importance of riding and whistling at the same time cannot be overemphasised. In the wake of Dawes' damning revelations, one would have expected the minister to at least attempt to quickly gauge, through anecdotal or other means, the veracity of the claims and immediately spring into action.

 

WHAT DID HE DO?

So the question is: What steps did Minister Ferguson take to address the situation, and what corrective measures did he put in place to obviate the spread of infectious diseases?

On completion of the audit in late August, the minister and health authorities failed to make the report public, and, in so doing, denied members of the public an opportunity to make their own decisions, take whatever precautions they deemed necessary, and protect themselves. In fact, at a press conference on September 2, the minister himself outlined the gaping holes in the state health-care system as contained in the audit report, which included safety hazards such as the potential transmission of infectious diseases. Minister Ferguson needs to tell us how he acted following the audit report's corroboration of Dawes' claims back in May.

No matter how much they attempt to spin it and absolve the minister of culpability, well-thinking Jamaicans deem it unacceptable, if not incredulous altogether, especially in light of the June outbreak of klebsiella and serratia, that Minister Ferguson, the person who heads the health portfolio, only became aware of the crisis two Fridays ago when reports first surfaced in the media. The minister's claim leaves more questions than answers.

Are we to believe that the various health authorities were not aware of the outbreak of the infection prior to the reports in the media? And if the regional health authorities were aware of the situation prior to reports in the media, do they not report to the minister of health? Wasn't Fenton Ferguson the person who appointed those boards? Isn't he the person to whom they report?

Regardless of the excuses proffered, the buck stops with Fenton Ferguson as minister, and I dare say the prime minister, who, by virtue of her failure to act in the past by rescuing Jamaicans from this errant and incompetent minister, must share in the blame.

 

MASSIVE COST

The health authorities' bungling and the egregious breakdown in stewardship, management and functioning of our health-care system have come at a massive and monumental cost to the most innocent and helpless among us - newborn babies.

And to top it all off, the authorities, in response to the unfolding crisis, have had the gall and temerity to tell us that it is quite 'normal' to have the rate of neonatal fatalities we have had. Pointing to developments elsewhere, they want us to accept that it is par for the course and nothing out of the ordinary to have 18 newborn babies killed and 42 infected by this bacteria.

It cannot be business as usual. Fenton Ferguson's errant ways have gone too far. His delinquency and recklessness as minister have caused 18 lives too many. It is time for the prime minister to step in and act. Fenton Ferguson must go!

- Marlon Morgan is deputy opposition spokesman on agriculture and an aide to Opposition Leader Andrew Holness. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and marlonandremorgan