Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Crack down on hand, foot and mouth

Published:Friday | October 2, 2015 | 10:00 AM

THE EDITOR, Sir:

I am a Jamaican formerly employed to the public health sector in Thailand. I have seen news reports over the last few days highlighting an outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD).

I must express my absolute shock and dismay with the way in which the disease outbreak is being handled. I am particularly concerned at what appears to be an attempt by the Jamaican health ministry to water down the significance of the disease.

This is especially so when the health authorities should be well aware of the fact that the disease has led to countless deaths of children across the globe. Just a few years ago in Cambodia, health officials have identified enterovirus 71 (EV-71), which causes hand, foot and mouth disease, while investigating the deaths of at least 52 children there! Other cases exist throughout South-East Asia.

In the space of a few days, the number of schools in Jamaica affected has moved from nine to almost 60. That's more than quintupling the first set of schools affected. In any sane society, the health ministry would have moved to quickly shut down all schools within a specified geographical area. This is essential to rapidly slowing down the spread of the disease and isolate it.

Five years ago, one of the biggest HFMD outbreaks in Thailand's history saw the government quickly shutting down dozens of kindergartens and primary schools for several days. This arrested the rate of disease spread and allowed the Government to disinfect all schools.

Dr Fenton Ferguson, Jamaica's minister of health, must be the worst in the world. He ignored publicly expressed concerns from even his political opponent in

his own constituency, Delano Seiveright; the then spokesman for health, Dr Ken Baugh; and the wider public by initially downplaying the chikungunya epidemic. Later, when he sought to play catch-up, it was too late - several died and countless Jamaicans were riddled with pain.

That he stayed on as minister and has allowed yet another outbreak to go on with such casual ease is frightening.

JENNIFER CHIN-HUE

jchinhue@hotmail.com

Bangkok, Thailand