Sat | Sep 23, 2017

Orville Taylor: There was no outbreak: only premature hysteria

Published:Sunday | November 1, 2015 | 11:00 AM

For nine months, she carried the load. Nose swelling up like a sweet pepper, ankles reshaping into chubby yam sticks, morning sickness, eating strange foods and even non-foods, fatigue, and general malaise.

All of this is second-hand information because only women can experience pregnancy after conception; while men often have misconceptions. The old adage says, 'Familiarity breeds contempt, However, I'm not sure if unfamiliarity or ignorance ever breeds anything.

Jamaicans are a very baby-centric people. Despite the suggestions a few months ago by a colleague of Health Minister Fenton Ferguson, we are an anti-abortion, children-loving people, although we may not know how to relate to them very well.

Most women, even children who conceive during gratuitous sex under ackee trees, want to keep their babies. The culture of deliberate termination of a pregnancy disparagingly called 'abaashan' is not only frowned upon, it elicits grimaces. A woman who does not value the foetus that she carries is called a 'cemetery', and she risks ostracism.

Despite the narratives and grand lies about black Jamaican men, most of us love the idea of fatherhood and relish standing up for an anticipated birth, even if the child is being raffled or even if the mother lives with her known spouse.

Therefore, nothing can be 'father' from the truth than the idea that Jamaicans who mark their X in general elections believe that premature children are not yet full humans. Over the past few months, 19 new humans perished at the Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH) and the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI), the very places where they should be given the greatest chance of life.

Two horrific microorganisms have wreaked havoc. The numbers really do not mean anything to me. Even if it were one 'dege-dege' case, it is too many because anyone who is making light of the outbreak or making excuses for the minister or officials would be devastated if it were their child; worst of all, their only child.

True, Ferguson has apologised for his comment that the infants who died in the UHWI and CRH were not "babies in the real sense". Clearly said without thinking, and immediately recanted, it unfortunately demonstrates that he has contracted a version of the fist, foot-in-mouth disease, which has been plaguing some of his colleagues in the Senate.

he should be sanctioned

Indeed, that is the one thing at this juncture that in my opinion, he should be sanctioned for, because even the thought that could have led to such an utterance should not have even had a spark in the mind of a medical doctor. Certainly, the words should have never left the mouth of a politician.

So far, what we know is that 19 premature infants have died. This is from a total of at least 42 who had been infected by klebsiella and serratia, two microbes transmitted by unhygienic surroundings and human contact. And it is indeed correct, as Ferguson revealed, that "when babies are born under seven months, their organs are not well developed ... . Their immune systems are significantly compromised." Nonetheless, it is still a great puzzle that there is any hullabaloo over the deaths because the minister revealed that Jamaica's infant mortality rate has improved impressively since 1990, when it was 21 per 1,000 births, to the now 12 per 1,000. Just for the purposes of comparison, the rate for the USA is just below six per 1,000; for the United Kingdom, it is slightly above four per 1,000; but for our CARICOM neighbours Barbados, it is 10.42 and Trinidad and Tobago, almost 24 per 1,000. By the way, the international sources report that our rate is actually 13.37 per 1,000, so someone is lying about the 1.3 per cent.

full confidence

More perplexing is that professor of public health and People's National Party supporter Winston Davidson has come out asserting that the numbers are not unusual and there is nothing that indicates any spike. Other personnel also seem to be saying that it is not an outbreak; but merely that the information is coming to the fore.

Nonetheless, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, who always has a good grasp of the truth and who clearly has full confidence in Ferguson, has admonished him. The Comrade leader warned, "... [E]nsure that what happened will never, ever happen again." So, then, if nothing untoward happened, what is there to fix or be apologetic about?

no culpability

Still, chief medical officer in the ministry Dr Marion Bullock DuCasse revealed that although she was advised on September 7 of the 'outbreak', there was nothing that obliged her to report this to the minister. Therefore, she has no culpability given that there "... is no need in our protocol to advise the minister of all reports that come from all hospitals, about all matters".

In any event, if there was no sharp rise in these infections, why then would anyone think it is an outbreak? And if there is no outbreak, there is nothing to report. So, the lingering question is, Is it simply that we have a vigilant media who are taking advantage of a health ministry, which is finally increasing its transparency?

The intrigue continues because on my plantation, the UHWI, which is not part of central government and not part of the ministry, Dr Cecil White, chief executive officer, and Professor Trevor McCartney, senior director, medical services, resigned without admitting any guilt. Nevertheless, a special task force found that there were "serious breaches of reporting and standard operational protocols".

I am going to put on my surgical and gas masks because something is pungent. Is the relative independence of 'UC' the reason for the admission that something was wrong there? What is the difference between the steps taken by McCartney and what Bullock DuCasse did?

Alas, UHWI is part of a scientific institution and it knows that, but we know that a six-month-old scandal is a real baby. Did the ministry abort its own?

- Dr Orville Taylor, senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host, is the 2013-14 winner of the Morris Cargill Award for Opinion Journalism. His just-published book, 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets', is now available at the UWI Bookshop. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com

and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.