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EDITORIAL - Be frank and clear on Ebola

Published:Friday | October 17, 2014 | 10:00 AM

Prime Minister (PM) Portia Simpson Miller has assumed the right posture in placing herself at the helm of the effort to confront the epidemic of chikungunya that has gripped Jamaica, as well as the dangers posed by Ebola, should that disease reach the island.

With regard to the former, the PM was clearly too slow to act. Thus, she allowed her health minister, Fenton Ferguson, with a dissembling focus on 'confirmed cases', to lead some people into complacency, but more critically, sap trust in the Government by the many thousands of others who were to feel the real and painful effects of the disease.

In the event, the country lost time getting on with the simplest and cheapest solution to a public-health crisis: mobilising communities and a broad partnership with the Government to halt the rampaging Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that transmit the chikungunya virus for which there is, up to now, no known cure.

The national clean-up efforts now under way - and which this newspaper hopes will be a foundation of a new public-health policy - would have been far more advanced. With many of their mosquito-breeding grounds removed, fewer people would have been infected with the virus and fewer productive man-hours lost.

There is a lesson here for Dr Ferguson and the Government: the value of telling the truth in a measured and respectful manner without concern for the political advantage to be lost or won because of frank communication. In other words, in situations such as this, it makes sense for leaders to bring people into their confidence by giving them appropriate and credible information.

In the absence of this approach, confidence suffers and what officials suppose to be communication becomes mere dissonance, an affliction that now dogs Minister Ferguson. Mrs Simpson Miller and the health minister appear to appreciate this: Dr Ferguson has recently kept his mouth shut.

NO ROOM FOR ERROR

As she attempts to rebuild the trust deficit, the prime minister must appreciate that with Ebola, the stakes are higher. That it requires person-to-person contact means that it is harder to catch than chikungunya. But it kills. Fast and ravagingly.

In this regard, there is no room for error in our preparation for this disease, whether in protocols for its management in the public health system and in communicating with the Jamaican people about it.

Jamaica must learn from the failures and best practices of West African countries where Ebola has rampaged and from America's missteps with the case that reached its shores. And there can be no repeat to Dr Ferguson's chikungunya faux pas.

Prefer to see Dr Blythe's back

Among the most appropriate of recent political acts is Karl Blythe's abandonment of his attempt to represent the People's National Party in the Central Westmoreland constituency of the late Roger Clarke. Dr Blythe, we feel, has little to nothing to offer Jamaican politics.

The abiding memory of Dr Blythe is the handling, as water and housing minister, of the Operation PRIDE project and his characterisation in the 2002 Angus Report on the debacle as a meddling minister who would play loose with public-sector management protocols, including gathering a handful of officials around him who behaved like a " brotherhood".

Dr Blythe will likely prefer to remember that the then prime minister, P.J. Patterson, caused a review, and impeachment of sorts, of the Angus Report.