Fri | Dec 9, 2016

Defending slackness at all costs

Published:Sunday | November 2, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Carolyn Cooper, Contributor

So the prime minister, who is also the minister of defence, is perfectly satisfied with the performance of her minister of health. She has every confidence in Dr Fenton Ferguson. It doesn't seem to matter that the nation is in a perilous state: pop down, mash up, largely because of the incompetence of the minister of health and his technocrats in handling the chik-V crisis.

Yes, I know; this is my fourth column on the virus. And if you substitute chik-V for Ebola, you can also count last week's column, 'Why there's no vaccine for chik-V'. It's the same story. Victims of chik-V are poor people in Asia, Africa, and now Latin America and the Caribbean. They can't guarantee huge profits for pharmaceutical companies.

The current estimate is that it takes 10 years and US$1 billion to develop a vaccine. Who is going to pay for that? Pharmaceutical companies are committed first and foremost to their shareholders. Don't be fooled by the nice things they say about wanting to save lives. They are not evangelists. It's all about the bottom line.

That's why pharmaceutical companies are now insisting that they should be let off the hook if the new vaccines they are rushing to develop for Ebola turn out to be dangerous. They want to be indemnified. Damn! The word 'indemnify' is of Latin origin. 'In' means 'not' and 'damnus' means 'loss, damage'. So the pharmaceutical companies want to be absolutely sure there's no loss even if there is damage!

DAMN WITH FAINT PRAISE

The prime minister appears to have indemnified Dr Ferguson against the spectacular losses the Jamaican economy has suffered over the last several weeks because of the mismanagement of the chik-V crisis. According to the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), approximately J$6 billion and 13 million man-hours have been lost because of the virus. I suppose those 'man'-hours also include women.

Dr Ferguson has been given a clean bill of health, it seems. The prime minister claims that he has "done nothing wrong". Could she be pulling a fast one on us? I've always insisted that our prime minister is much more astute than her detractors would like us to believe. If I were Dr Ferguson, I would be very worried about being commended for doing nothing wrong. That's next to nothing. It sounds a lot like being damned with faint praise.

Wikipedia defines that turn of phrase in this way: "Damning with faint praise is an English idiom for words that effectively condemn by seeming to offer praise which is too moderate or marginal to be considered praise at all. In other words, this phrase identifies the act of expressing a compliment so feeble that it amounts to no compliment at all, or even implies a kind of condemnation."

I can just hear the kissing of teeth: Dat a no wa Sister P mean. She a defend Fenton Ferguson slackness fi true. She nah condemn im. OK. So I'm reading far too much into the prime minister's words. But whether she intended it or not, her statement that the minister of health has done nothing wrong can quite reasonably be interpreted as condemnation.

In this chik-V epidemic, which might well have knocked out at least 60 per cent of the Jamaican workforce, it's simply not good enough that the minister of health has done nothing wrong. What has he actually done right? What kind of leadership has he provided to help us cope with this disaster? Has he not completely failed at his job? And shouldn't he be forced to resign?

WHO ATTENDED CHIK-V WORKSHOP?

I was alarmed to discover quite recently that in May 2012, a training workshop on chik-V was held right here in Kingston at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel. Convened by the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the workshop brought together participants from 22 countries across the region.

The workshop focused on 'Preparedness and Response for Chikungunya Virus Introduction in the Americas in the Context of Dengue'. In 2013, PAHO published a report confirming that "the participants elaborated a draft preparedness, control, and response plan for chik outbreaks in the Caribbean subregion, focused in three main components - clinical management and epidemiology, laboratory diagnostic, and vector control".

The report carefully documents the agreed plan of action:

❐ "PAHO will communicate with ministries of health to convey the importance of preparing for the introduction of chik.

❐ Participants of the training course will promote sensitisation of senior health staff at the country level (minister, CMO, PS).

❐ Each country's Ministry of Health will review existing plans and develop country-specific programmes based on the framework developed at meeting.

❐ Each country's Ministry of Health will evaluate the capacity of current dengue surveillance and response programmes as a background for chik-V introduction."

I would very much like to know who from our Ministry of Health attended that training course. And did they "promote sensitisation" of the minister of health, the chief medical officer and the permanent secretary? Apparently not! With more than two years' warning, what, if anything, did the minister of health do to prepare the country for chik-V? Not much. Doing nothing wrong is unquestionably not right. It's slackness, plain and simple. And that's indefensible.

Carolyn Cooper is a teacher of English language and literature. Visit her bilingual blog at http://carolynjoycooper.wordpress.com. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and karokupa@gmail.com.