Fri | Apr 28, 2017

Protecting tourism at what price?

Published:Sunday | October 5, 2014 | 10:00 AM

Carolyn Cooper, Contributor

As late as last Monday, Dr Fenton Ferguson was still claiming that there were only 35 'confirmed' cases of chik-V in all of Jamaica. If the goodly dentist has a public-health inspector to spare, I can prove that a full 25 per cent of these cases are concentrated in just two roads in my neighbourhood!

I have chik-V. My neighbours to my right and left and up the road are also afflicted. That's four of us. And down the adjacent road, there are at least another five cases. So that makes nine out of 35. And that's just the ones I know about. Of course, the big trick is 'confirmed'. We are not 'confirmed' cases. We have the symptoms, but that doesn't matter.

As far as the Ministry of Health is concerned, if you haven't done a blood test, you and your doctor are just guessing. It could be chik-V, dengue or some mysterious combination thereof. You just can't be sure. That's why Dr Ferguson could have kept on pretending for so long that there are only 35 'confirmed' cases of chik-V in all 14 parishes! It's just a word game.

NOT A GOOD SIGN

Last Tuesday, I decided I'd had enough of the guessing and spelling. So I told my doctor I needed to do the test. I wanted to be 'confirmed', or not, as the case may be. She sent me to Caribbean Genetics (Carigen) located in the brand new building that houses the Faculty of Medical Sciences at the University of the West Indies.

Carigen is located on the fourth floor and the main elevators were not working. Already? Why aren't the elevators being maintained, I wondered. But I was there for a blood test. I was not a professional building inspector. I decided to mind my own business. All the same, I felt uneasy. This was not a good sign.

As a victim of unconfirmed chik-V, I was not prepared to take the stairs all the way up to the fourth floor. Fortunately, the service elevator in the back was working. When I got to Carigen and presented the form for the blood test, I was informed by the receptionist that the test could not be done. There were no reagents in stock. And she did not know when they would be coming in.

She said they could still take the blood sample and the test would be done when the reagents were available. I declined the offer. I had no confidence in tests done on 'stale' blood. Of course, this must have been the 'unconfirmed' chik-V talking. My response was completely unscientific. In other circumstances, I would have readily taken the receptionist's word for it: refrigerated blood could remain perfectly fresh for quite a while.

But, in my state of frustration, I was quite prepared to diss science in favour of instinct. And, in any case, my response was no more irrational than Minister Ferguson's insistence for so long that there were only 35 'confirmed' cases of chik-V in Jamaica. As if that was the whole truth of the matter.

SCARING TOURISTS

I'm not surprised that the minister of health finally confessed last week that he's been concerned about the impact of chik-V on the tourist industry. That now seems to be the primary explanation for why the number of 'confirmed' cases of the disease is so low. Of course, the unavailability of reagents for testing is another factor.

I completely understand Dr Ferguson's anxiety about scaring off visitors with chik-V. After all, tourism is our bread and butter. But I think he's underestimating the bravery of potential tourists. One of my neighbours with chik-V told me last week that she was expecting relatives from the UK to come on holiday. She warned them about the virus and suggested that they postpone their trip.

They called their hotel and were reassured that there was no problem. And they're here, having a very good time. For them, the sting of unpredictable English weather is a confirmed fact. Much more certain than the risk of being bitten by a bad-mind mosquito!

I think the minister of tourism and entertainment should launch an innovative chik-V campaign. On departure, each visitor should be given a farewell gift: a badge of bravery that reads, 'I survived chik-V in Jamaica'. It could become quite a fashion statement. A whole new meaning of 'chic'!

Seriously, though, the minister of health needs to be far less concerned about tourists and much more worried about the people of Jamaica. The Government has a much bigger problem than chik-V. And, by the way, the Opposition is an essential part of government. Most Jamaicans simply don't trust the word of politicians.

The health ministry's concealment of the truth about the spread of chik-V is just another example of why most of us don't take politicians seriously. Dem too lie! Half a truth is a complete lie. As one of my wicked friends said, if is one person she waan fi get chik-V is Dr Fenton Ferguson. Then him will know fa sure. There are definitely more than 35 confirmed cases of the disease in Jamaica. If is only one more!

Carolyn Cooper is professor of literary and cultural studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona. Visit her bilingual blog at http://carolynjoycooper.wordpress.com. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and karokupa@gmail.com.