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Fenton won't quit - Health minister says he handled baby deaths crisis the best way possible

Published:Friday | October 23, 2015 | 10:00 AMShanna Kaye Monteith
Dr Fenton Ferguson: Justice must not only be done but also appear to have been done, and by virtue of when I was advised, I believe that my actions since that time represented what could have best been done.

Persons calling for the resignation of Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson over the deaths of 18 babies at two of the country's public hospitals will not see that happening any time soon - if at all.

The babies died from infections caused by four outbreaks of the klebsiella and serratia bacteria since June this year at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) in St Andrew and the Cornwall Regional Hospital in St James.

Individuals and groups, including the opposition Jamaica Labour Party, have been calling for Ferguson's resignation or firing, but the health minister has cast a shadow over the renewed calls for his head. He told The Gleaner that evidence was a key factor to consider when coming to conclusions in relation to punishments or other decisions about his future.

"Justice must not only be done but also appear to have been done, and by virtue of when I was advised, I believe that my actions since that time represented what could have best been done," he said.

 

BREACH OF PROTOCOL

 

According to Ferguson, "The press release from the board of the University Hospital confirms that there was a breach of protocol, and as a result, there was failure to communicate at different levels. When I was informed of the situation on Friday, I did everything that a minister could have done."

The health minister said a meeting was called on the same evening when he was notified, and another meeting was held with the major stakeholders at the UHWI.

He said he also reached out to the various international health officials at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and received their immediate response.

"I also called the executive director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency. They are on standby, just waiting for me to say whether to move relative to not just the UHWI and Cornwall Regional situation, but to look at our infection-control system, especially in our hospitals with nurseries, because we're not talking about the deaths of full-term babies. We're talking about the deaths of babies that were under two and a half pounds, less than seven months [mature], which means their lungs and other organ systems were not well developed and their immune systems were weak and, therefore, they became far more susceptible to any kind of infection," he pointed out.

 

SYMPATHISED WITH FAMILIES

 

Ferguson told The Gleaner that he sympathised with the families of the babies who have been impacted as he is also a parent.

He pointed out that the ministry, with the help of overseas officials, was doing everything it could to improve the health systems, revealing that two more PAHO experts were expected to arrive on the island today.

Two PAHO representatives arrived in Jamaica on Tuesday and have visited a few hospitals as they investigate and assess the deaths of the babies.

On Wednesday, United Nations representatives from agencies such as the United Nations Children's Fund, the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) described the deaths of the babies as shocking, painful and horrendous at a Gleaner Editors' Forum. The UNFPA said it would assess the situation and provide support.

Ferguson yesterday made mention of the €22 million received from the European Union, which will see to the construction of what he described as high-dependence units for the improvement of neonatal and maternal care in the country.

"I think one of the worst things that could have happened in this country, and the precedence I see coming, is for politics to be seeping into a sector like health, and we will pay dearly if we allow this to happen," he said, rebuffing calls from the Opposition for his resignation.