Sat | Jun 19, 2021

Christopher Tufton | Now is when Jamaicans need to fight COVID-19

Published:Monday | February 22, 2021 | 12:13 AM
Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton.
Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton.

We have seen in this past week just how quickly the COVID-19 pandemic can change course. Within the last few days, dramatically and rapidly increasing numbers of confirmed cases have had an impact on the healthcare system, with COVID-19 hospital wards across the island almost at capacity, and on the country as a whole, with the more restrictive all-island curfew.

The added burden on hospitals is bound to put pressure on nurses and doctors, lengthen their working hours, and could create confusion and panic. This is not where we want to be as a country.

Vaccines are on their way. Once they get here, we ought to see a reduction in new infections and hospitalizations, and ease the burden on the healthcare sector. In the interim, the Ministry of Health and Wellness continues to respond to ongoing needs for management of the virus, and meet challenges as they arise.

We are meeting this current challenge by accelerating the expansion of numbers of COVID-19 hospital beds across the island. Field hospitals are being built at Falmouth Public General Hospital in Trelawny, at St. Joseph’s Hospital & Medical Centre in Kingston, and at the Mandeville Regional Hospital in Manchester. The 40-bed field hospital that was originally sited at the National Chest Hospital will be moved to Spanish Town.

FOCUS ON TESTING

We continue to focus on testing. Private labs across the island are now certified to conduct COVID-19 tests, and systematic testing throughout the island’s hospitals and health centres is ongoing.

A nationwide communication campaign is in the works. This is necessary to ensure that every Jamaican understands and appreciates the nature and severity of the problem, the importance and safety of the vaccine, the solutions to the challenges we face, and their role in the process. The campaign will help to bridge the gap between policy and implementation, and between the Government’s action and that of our citizens.

The Government cannot meet this challenge alone. Citizens must play their part, too. Without compliance on the part of our citizens, we risk undermining the efforts of the Government. The Disaster Risk Management Act regulations include observing social and physical distancing, quarantines, curfews, gathering limits, and restrictions on entertainment and events. The regulations will not be effective if people do not comply.

COMMUNITY PARTICIPATION INTEGRAL

Community leaders play an integral role by encouraging compliance in shared spaces such as churches, parks, restaurants, and bars. Some churches have been playing their part by moving services online, and encouraging their members to observe the protocols, offering prayers for the nation, and providing spiritual support for their members. Other churches should be encouraged to do the same.

Community organisations can assist by providing information on protocols and safety recommendations, and using their network, proximity, and communal bonds to encourage responsible behaviour among their members.

The private sector also has a role to play and must continue to lend its voice and resources to our efforts to keep Jamaicans safe and return the country to normality.

We continue to engage and encourage dialogue with a wide range of groups in society, and we hope these partnerships will foster the sharing of ideas, greater compliance and consensus on the way forward.

We must continue, as a country, to make every effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and bring the pandemic under control. The Government continues to develop and implement the necessary policies and strategies, but the public must play its part by observing protocols and regulations, wearing a mask, sanitising regularly, avoiding crowds and gatherings, and staying six feet apart from other people.

The only way out of this pandemic is through; and the only way to get through is for all of the country to be a part of the effort.

- Dr Christopher Tufton is Jamaica’s minister of health and wellness and member of parliament for St Catherine West Central. Send feedback to cctufton@gmail.com or columns@gleanerjm.com.