Wed | Oct 17, 2018

Walk the Ebola talk

Published:Tuesday | October 28, 2014 | 12:00 AM

A plan on a piece of paper is still just a piece of paper. After two horribly failed Ebola scares, it's high time the Ministry of Health insist on, and supervise, Ebola drills at every hospital and port of entry. ACTUALLY DO IT! Don't just circulate this long, auspicious document.

I was hoping to not have to go here. I was hoping by this time the Ministry of Health would have got its act together. After doing a quick survey of some health-care workers I know in various parishes, it was brought to my attention that only some had got a written plan, and none had done a simulation. Sigh.

Although the ministry remains defensive and insists protocols were followed to the letter, I still say Montego Bay was a fiasco. After declaring that he had previously travelled to Liberia, the passenger and his guest were set free to enjoy the sun, sea and sand of Montego Bay. There are big inconsistencies in the accounts given by ministry officials about the protocols followed on his arrival, and I'm still not convinced that if a similar situation were to occur, it would be handled much differently. I wanted to read for myself these documented protocols that were adhered to.

I decide to test the Access to Information Act. Not one to unfairly hurl criticisms and not get it straight form the horse's mouth, I called the Ministry of Health. I called the main line for most of the morning, no one answered.

I then went on the website and saw a number dedicated to Access to Information queries. Perfect! Called that and, after just two rings, the phone was promptly and politely answered.

I declared that I was testing the Access to Information Act and would like to see Jamaica's Ebola Preparedness Plan. I was told: "Not possible." I was informed that this document was still a fledgling work in progress and was not available to that department, let alone the public and, in any event, it would first need ratification from Parliament before I could see it.


I asked if I couldn't even see the "work-in-progress document" and was told, no can do. When asked when I might be able to see such a document, her guess was as good as mine. I was politely wished adieu and there ended that.

No fault of the lady I spoke with, that conversation made me feel uncomfortable like a plan did not, in fact, exist.

I shared my concern on Facebook and one good doctor came to the rescue of the ministry and shared with me a 60-page manual emailed to doctors by the Medical Association of Jamaica. It set out in great detail how doctors should handle suspected Ebola cases. Props for that, Mr Minister and team.

However, to the best of my knowledge, according to the doctors I have spoken with, the plan is nothing more than a piece of paper, because it hasn't been tested; as was made more than evident by fiasco number two that played out at Mandeville Regional Hospital.

I end how I began. A plan on a piece of paper is still just a piece of paper. After two horribly failed Ebola scares, it's high time the Ministry of Health insist on, and supervise, Ebola drills at every hospital and port of entry.

That's how crisis management goes. And especially when a botched response can mean the difference between life and death, a plan must be practised. And after the drill is executed, make a long, everlasting list of all the things that went wrong and fix them. Then do the drill again, until we get it right.

By the way, I don't know what the ministry wants me to do if I show signs of, or come into contact with, Ebola. Is there a special number I should call? Do I report to my general practitioner or to a clinic or to the nearest hospital? Should I wrap myself in plastic bags? I'm waiting to hear that part of the plan.

On a lighter note, I got some good laughs from both Ebola episodes. Hearing how the staff at the hotel in MoBay said "Foot, weh yu deh!?" and peeled out of the lobby like Dover cars was downright hilarious - and sad.

My graphic mind was near on the floor at the imagery of the doctor treating the man while dressed in his best makeshift hazmat suit: plastic bags and water boots, as recounted by Dr Banjo, the affected Nigerian patient. Not to mention the nurse who, mid-treatment, dropped her thermometer and pen and hightailed out the hospital, yelling to all in earshot, "Di man go Nigeria. Mi gone!" Never a dull moment.

Patria-Kaye Aarons is a television presenter and confectioner. Email feedback to and, or tweet @findpatria.