Fenton Ferguson warns against politicising health
Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson has categorised as public mischief claims being made that the Zika virus is in Jamaica.
In a statement to the House of Representatives on Tuesday, Ferguson said that "there is no such evidence" of the virus being in Jamaica, this, despite claims made to this effect by Opposition Spokesperson on Health Marlene Malahoo Forte.
"We simply cannot afford to politicise a matter such as health because we would also be putting ourselves and our families at risk," Ferguson said.
"When we do things like that, we not only send our citizens into panic, but we break down their trust in the health system; our international partners do not view us favourably; there are implications for other industries such as tourism and even the small man on the street who plies his wares," he added.
The Zika virus is similar to Dengue Fever, with symptoms that include fever, joint and muscle pain, conjunctivitis, headache, weakness, rash, and swelling of the lower limbs.
Addressing the claim that at least one person has tested positive for the diseases in Jamaica, Ferguson said that based on advice from his technical team, there is no Zika virus in Jamaica.
"I have heard talk that someone from a particular community in St Catherine was infected. Again, there is no such evidence that anyone from that parish or any other has been infected with the Zika virus. The information we have is that outside of Brazil, there have been no Zika virus cases confirmed in any country in the Latin American and Caribbean region, including Jamaica," Ferguson said.
He said that the sample that was sent to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) for testing for chikungunya, dengue, and Zika came back negative for all three viruses.
"I assure you that if we do confirm a case of Zika in the country, as is customary in these situations, the Ministry of Health will inform the country promptly," Ferguson said.
In a thinly-veiled scolding of the Opposition, Ferguson said that the health of citizens and the perception of the value of the public-health system have to be taken very seriously no matter the affiliation.
"I am very concerned about the irresponsible utterances that have come from certain segments of the society. This can only serve to hurt our country and all of us as Jamaicans," the minister said.
"When you villainise a community, people stay away and view it with scorn. The same applies to any health facility and even the country. We cannot continue like this. It is time that we give this important sector the respect it deserves. If we say we are in favour of growth and prosperity for Jamaica, we have to build up and not break down our assets, and health has been one of our biggest assets," Ferguson said.
He added: "Yes, there are challenges, but we will not be able to overcome them without a united effort. I appeal to our citizens to desist from politicising health. It is too important a sector to be used in this way. Help us to build the health sector as this is the only way that we can truly move towards building Jamaica, meeting our development objectives, and improving the lives of our citizens."