Wed | Dec 7, 2022

UN Reps horrified at babies' deaths ... offer support to Government

Published:Wednesday | October 21, 2015 | 12:00 AMGary Spaulding

Shocking, painful and horrendous were some of the words used by United Nations representatives to describe the deaths of 18 babies within a four-month span at two of the island's top public hospitals.

"Very painful," declared Lone Hvass, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) deputy repre-sentative, during a Gleaner Editors' Forum yesterday as she reacted to news of the flood of deaths.

"It is shocking!" echoed Sheila Rousseau, director, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Sub-Regional Office for the Caribbean, who was part of a team of UN representatives who were at The Gleaner's North Street offices in Kingston to participate in the forum.

Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson and his team have been called on to explain how 18 babies died within a four-month period at the St James-based Cornwall Regional Hospital and University Hospital of the West Indies in St Andrew.


Ferguson said he was not made aware of the deaths until late last week, even as health officials said that the infants, most of whom were born premature with compromised immune systems, perished from onslaughts of bacteria called klebsiella and serratia.

The team from the health ministry has been insisting that bacterial attacks on premature babies are not unusual - not only in Jamaica, but globally.

With UNICEF working to lower infant mortality in Jamaica, with some success, Hvass expressed anguish at the multiple deaths.

The mortality rate has reportedly dropped since the 1990s from 30 to 15 per 1,000.

"That number of deaths - 18 over four months - is horrendous," said Hvass. "The Ministry of Health needs to have a definitive explanation on what actually happened."

Hvass stressed that while the effects of bacterial attacks on premature babies was well-documented, 18 deaths were still shocking.

UNICEF is a United Nations programme that provides long-term humanitarian and develop-mental assistance to children and mothers in developing countries. It has its headquarters in New York City.

Hvass disclosed that while UNICEF was not directly involved with the issue, the agency would be communicating with the health ministry to ascertain what has been happening in the two hospitals.

"We are very concerned," she stressed.

Hvass's sentiments were endorsed by Rousseau.

"Like UNICEF, it is something that we are concerned about," declared the UNFPA director. "It's an unfortunate situation, but we are happy to say that the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), which has expertise in this area, will assess the situation and provide immediate support," said Rousseau.

She added: "It is something that can be prevented, and we hope that we will get the opportunity to work with the Government of Jamaica to look at the systems, and this is why we do what we do in the UNFPA."

The UNFPA works to ensure universal access to reproductive health, including family planning and sexual health to all couples and individuals.

Rousseau suggested that the first course of action is to determine the degree of the bacterial invasion.

"I am not aware of any to this extent since April of this year when I returned to Jamaica and any such in 2011," she said.

She emphasised that the situation in which the two health facilities have found themselves speaks to the need to constantly protect and safeguard medical infrastructure and services from unhygienic invasion.

"Something is definitely not up to par at the two hospitals, and PAHO is willing to help to identify the problem," said Rousseau. "This is not a finger-pointing exercise," she added.

Continued Rousseau: "This is shocking, so let's find out what went wrong and ensure that it never happens again."

Clinical scientist and microbiologist Anthony Jones has indicated that less-than-acceptable hygiene practices could have been the cause of the latest blow to the health sector.