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MAJ head says ministry's response to bacteria outbreak raises questions

Published:Saturday | October 24, 2015 | 12:00 AMJodi-Ann Gilpin

Newly appointed president of the Medical Association of Jamaica Dr Myrton Smith has urged the nation to use the deadly bacteria outbreak at two of the country's hospitals, which claimed the lives of 18 babies, as a learning opportunity. He also said that the Ministry of Health's response to the issue raises questions.

Minister of Health Dr Fenton Ferguson told a press conference that four international health experts were due on the island to help battle the infections being caused by the Klebsiella and Serratia bacteria, which caused the deaths.

Smith, however, noted that there are skilled persons locally who are able to treat critical cases, but they are challenged with financial constraints.


"While there may have been a breakdown in the reporting protocols between the affected health-care facilities and the Ministry of Health, the subsequent response of the ministry raises questions. Do we lack the requisite expertise within Jamaica to develop and implement the response to this problem? Is that why we had to invite or accept external assistance? If we do lack the relevant resources, what measures have been put in place to remedy this deficiency?" he asked.

"It is our view that we do possess the requisite skills locally, but we simply lack the financial support. It is our continued hope that we will see steady and dramatic improvements in the sector as we continue to anticipate the boost to be provided by the much-touted increased health budget. This sustained focus on issues in the health sector must have a positive outcome for all Jamaicans," Smith noted in a press release.


"We must learn from this cluster of infectious cases and take the prompting to approach health-care delivery in a more proactive manner, while being prepared to react to inevitable emergencies that will arise. The Medical Association remains concerned about infectious disease prevention in the various public health facilities, including, but not limited to, hand-washing facilities (especially during periods of drought), a steady supply of antibiotics, isolation facilities for infected patients, and sanitation practices."

He also said that while he empathised with families who lost their babies, preterm babies being susceptible to infections was not uncommon.

"The reports highlight that the majority of these newborns were preterm and of low birth weight, rendering them immunologically susceptible to these infections. Our infant mortality rate has been reported as around 13.69/1,000 live births, which is better than Trinidad and Tobago at 24.82/1,000, but worse than developed countries like the United States, where it is 6.1/1,000.

"This puts us at 114th out of 222 countries. This is important information that provides very little comfort to these families."