Tue | Dec 6, 2016

Ferguson under fire as concerns grow over mounting body count

Published:Tuesday | February 24, 2015 | 12:00 AMAnastasia Cunningham
Dr Shane Alexis, president of the Medical Association of Jamaica

Public concerns continue to mount over the number of deaths related to the chikungunya virus (chik-V) that severely impacted Jamaica over the last eight months.

Anecdotal stories from both doctors and the public suggest that at least 20 deaths have been linked to the debilitating virus. Reports are that the majority of deaths connected to the disease, contracted from infected mosquitoes, have resulted from complications developed because of pre-existing medical conditions.

"I want to take this opportunity to express serious concern at the number of persons dying from chikungunya-related complications. That the health minister, Dr Fenton Ferguson, has said not a single word on the matter is an indictment in and of itself," Charlene Wilson, a concerned citizen, said in a letter written to The Gleaner yesterday.

"It is even more frightening that Dr Marion Bullock-Ducasse, the senior civil servant in the ministry, who generally speaks on these matters, is silent."

She continued: "I had the unfortunate experience of going to three funerals over the last two months for persons who, according to family members, died mere days and weeks after getting chikungunya. I now have the terrible misfortune of preparing to bury my uncle whose organs failed three months after getting chikungunya. He had a pre-existing condition against which he has been successfully fighting for seven years. Upon getting chikungunya, everything went haywire.

"If that is not enough, I now have the horrible task of preparing to bury my brother-in-law who just last week passed away after a tough fight with kidney problems that erupted two years ago. I now have a good friend in hospital and her family swears chik-V is the problem. After getting chikungunya, things went south, and he was in hospital day after day. We cannot continue like this."

Dr Shane Alexis, president of the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ), told The Gleaner that doctors do, in fact, have a strong suspicion of some deaths being related to chik-V. However, there was no official confirmation.

"We have certainly had a high index of suspicion for many cases that it would appear more than coincidental that the person had chik-V and died within a particular period. However, without an autopsy, it would be hard for us to confirm or speak officially on it," Alexis said.

"The Ministry of Health would be the best authority there. However, we have done a lot of work from the MAJ on educating both physicians and patients, working with different groups to build awareness, and that continues."

He added: "At the same time, we do need more locally done research. More has to be done because we are still using research and data from other countries. But Jamaica has to learn from how significantly chik-V impacted us, and a big part of that learning experience has to be doing our own research, both retrospective and current."

Alexis said serious complications can develop in persons who had an underlying medical conditions and he urged them to seek professional medical attention and not take it lightly.

Wilson, in her letter, said it was painful to know that Ferguson was still in office while families were in absolute grief.

"I hear him talking up measles but not saying a word about chik-V and all the dead people burying."

She stated that while at hospitals in Kingston and St Catherine visiting relatives who were bed-ridden, she noted several cases of persons battling pre-existing conditions and chik-V complications at the same time.

"I am now wondering if our doctors even know how to treat this epidemic. Their explanations were always vague. Something is clearly wrong. I don't know what else to do as the people who should be speaking up or doing something about it aren't saying much," she stated.

In regards to queries from The Gleaner, the health ministry said it would send an update on chik-V in Jamaica as soon as possible. Up to press time, that update, including any official data on chik-V-related deaths, had not been made available.

In the meantime, A February 20 update from the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) on the number of reported cases of chikungunya in the Caribbean and Americas lists Jamaica as having no chik-V deaths.

Also, of the more than 1.2 million suspected cases of chik-V that PAHO is reporting to date in the Caribbean and Americas, Jamaica's suspected cases are listed as 1,669.

This is despite the thousands of suspected cases and reports that more than 50 per cent of the population has been affected by chik-V.

The Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) also reported that approximately 13 million man-hours may have been lost as a result of the outbreak last year, potentially resulting in economic losses of more than $6 billion, as workers stayed off the job while recovering.

Some business places, the PSOJ noted, appeared to have up to 60 per cent of staff affected the debilitating disease.

"We cannot afford another event like the chik-V epidemic, for which no one was held accountable, even though it cost the country so much in terms of deaths and GDP (gross domestic product)," PSOJ President William Mahfood said earlier this month

anastasia.cunningham@gleanerfm.com

QUESTIONS FOR HEALTH MINISTRY

In light of the overwhelming fears of chik-V-related deaths, Charlene Wilson is posing several questions to the Ministry of Health. Some are:

1. Is there any way we can better deal with chik-V complications for persons with pre-existing medical conditions? Is there any best practice or proven methods from other countries? I ask simply because I don't have any confidence in the doctors, as they seem just as confused as I am.

2. Can the Ministry of Health call for international help? The Reverend Glen Archer and many other Jamaicans are dead. Is that the end of the matter? Will no one investigate further and see to putting an end to all these fatalities?

3. I am still confused about chik-V treatments. Even Professor Carolyn Cooper is, hence everyone trying their own thing, including herbal remedies

4. How many people have died and who is recording it, if it is being recorded at all? From what I am seeing and hearing, it sounds like a lot of people to me. Just talk to people and you realise how serious this is.

5. Are the Medical Association of Jamaica and the Jamaica Medical Doctors Association both embarrassed? They, too, were caught off-guard with chikungunya and at the beginning seemed to have been in denial. Now that the virus has gone all across Jamaica, they seem off-guard about so many people dying.