Editorial | Don’t bet on Dr Hunter
It is better, the saying goes, to be safe than sorry. Which is why the Government’s reimposition of a temporary ban on airline flights from the United Kingdom was the right thing to do. It is logical, also, to maintain sensible COVID-19 protocols in Jamaica. The potential alternative is substantially more Jamaicans becoming ill, with many dying.
In other words, this newspaper, should they be so inclined, urges Jamaica, the Government and the people not to be swayed by the advice of Dr Roger Hunter, a Jamaican neurosurgeon, to abandon restraint and frolic with COVID-19, on the assumption that the disease will have very minimal impact in Jamaica. The island is just too hot, for what Dr Hunter says is merely “a heat-sensitive, winter virus”. He also says that Jamaica should shun the vaccines now being rolled out against COVID-19.
Said Dr Hunter: “We need to take our medications, exercise, lose weight, get fit, control diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. In addition, screen early and do not delay our cancer treatments, shun evil, destructive, stress-filled thoughts – be positive. These are the best vaccines against COVID-19.”
Central to Dr Hunter’s latest broadside against Jamaica’s response to the novel coronavirus, in a column in this newspaper on Saturday, is the absence in Jamaican hospitals of “basic technology-driven cures”, such as “angiogram suites and fast CT scans”. These are required, among other things, to examine blocked arteries in the heart and brain of patients, many of whom die because of inadequacy of treatment.
We do not question Dr Hunter’s analysis of the situation in Jamaica’s public health system and of its need for the technologies and specialised units of the type for which he pitched. Indeed, we have, in the past, bemoaned the differential in the healthcare available to well-to-do and wealthy Jamaicans, who utilise private health services, whether at home or abroad, and poor people who rely on the public system.
Nonetheless, with respect to Dr Hunter’s posture towards COVID-19, we make two observations. The first is that exercise, diet and a generally healthy lifestyle are precisely what the healthcare experts say best prevent the onset of cardiovascular and related diseases, whose treatment may later demand the imaging technologies that are so lacking in Jamaica’s hospitals.
While these technologies, and more, ought to be available, the starting point for fighting lifestyle diseases, against which they are most deployed, is deterrence, which is to say, public education. In other words, a healthier population will lessen the demand for these expensive technologies. Dr Hunter implies this.
Our second point is that having decent, properly resourced hospitals and fighting COVID-19 isn’t a zero sum game and shouldn’t be approached as such. One ought not to be addressed at the expense of the other.
The fact is that SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that spawned COVID-19, is real. Like many viruses, it is prone to mutation, as is evidenced in Britain where its latest mutation is said to be up to 70 per cent more efficient in transmission.
Globally, nearly 78 million people have contracted the virus and more than 1.7 million have so far died. Up until the start of this week, 286 of those deaths were in Jamaica, from among more than 12,000 people confirmed with the disease.
It’s perhaps true that the tropical conditions limit the spread and potency of the virus, but even then, the outcomes are not uniform in tropical and subtropical countries. Much, it appears, depends on how the disease is managed – the protocols that are in place.
This newspaper, since the advent of the virus, has never been an advocate of harsh lockdowns, with the inevitable negative impact on the economy and its disproportionate effect on society’s most vulnerable. But we are also aware that Jamaicans, too, become ill and die from this communicable disease – almost 300 so far. That number could very well accelerate if there were no reasonable and rational policies and programmes to limit the spread of the virus.
The Gleaner, notwithstanding Dr Hunter’s position to the contrary, supports the mandated wearing of masks in public places and public buildings. We back the advice for frequent washing of hands, or other forms of sanitisation. We embrace, too, the need for physical distancing. We accept that, for the time being, the managed movement of people between countries is sensible. Who knows if the British mutation is the one that will be deadly in Jamaica and elsewhere in the tropics?
Unlike with thalidomide in the 1950s, which caused birth defects in babies whose mothers used the drug for nausea, the development of the vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 has been subject to global scrutiny and peer-reviewed by many of the world’s leading scientists. We are confident that the drugs are safe, within the acceptable margins.
It is far more sensible for Jamaicans to wear masks, hand sanitise, maintain physical distance, and, when it becomes available, take the vaccine, rather than gamble on bacchanalia with COVID-19. Leave Dr Hunter to bet with his own life.