EDITORIAL - Gov't can't afford to sleep on chik-V
Dr Fenton Ferguson, the minister of health, is no political juvenile, having won the St Thomas Eastern constituency for the past five elections dating back to 1993. And that is why this newspaper was disappointed with how Dr Ferguson allowed himself to be baited into becoming a clownish figure, armed with a swatter, flailing away at political rivals instead of collaring the chikungunya epidemic.
Dr Ferguson has been busy trying to extinguish fires of frenzy and concern about the chikungunya virus, emphasising that there have been only a few dozen confirmed cases - 35 at last count. And he has been marching up and down like a wound-up toy drummer booming the same dissonant message.
Of course, we don't doubt the veracity of science and its conclusions from samples. But Dr Ferguson well knows that the majority of patients will not pay upwards of $7,000 just to confirm the presence of chik-V. Anecdotal reports suggest there may be tens of thousands of suspected cases of persons with chik-V, dengue or other extreme flu-like symptoms, a matter which we believe should trigger a more muscular response from the Government than the tepid public-relations web-weaving in which Dr Ferguson has been engaged.
Dr Kevin Harvey, who has been acting as permanent secretary since the recent retirement of Jean Dixon, has presented a clearer and more direct prognosis of the danger that looms. According to Dr Harvey, the chikungunya virus could "incrementally pass through 30-60 per cent of the population", which means, baldly, that more than 1.6 million Jamaicans may be afflicted with symptoms. That's serious!
Of course, we are aware that less than one per cent of persons hit by the virus will likely die, but the creaking bones, roasting temperatures, and pounding headaches have a knock-on effect that has caused significant displacement to commerce and daily life.
The Jamaica Manufacturers' Association has already indicated that a survey revealed that 20,000 man-hours have been lost, which we believe is a mere snapshot of a wider portrait of absenteeism and lethargy which will worsen Jamaica's legendary low productivity. Schools in downtown and eastern Kingston - and farther east in St Thomas - have reported hundreds of mass absences that have also affected administrative, teaching and auxiliary staff.
What this newspaper finds bewildering is why the minister of health has been more obsessed with peddling case counts and patient dockets than mitigating the outbreak.
As news emerged yesterday afternoon about a serious local- and central-government fightback, we are heartened that Dr Ferguson has been finally awakened from his mosquito bite-induced slumber. Focus must be placed on ramping up the fogging of the most affected communities; giving a kick to the behind of the narcoleptic National Solid Waste Management Authority to remove garbage rotting for weeks; ensuring that hospitals and neighbourhood clinics are stocked with paracetamol; and increasing public awareness on the ground.
This effort will take money, considering the country's fiscal constraints, but the opportunity cost of doing nothing but bumbling about numbers - which seems to be Dr Ferguson's speciality of training - is a price Jamaica cannot pay.
Perhaps the prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller, might be tempted to appoint someone attuned to the starkness of the impact of chik-V on the economy and national life, in general, to lead a task force to curb the spread. After all, the mosquitoes have been biting 'hot'. We've got to bite back!
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