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Fergie avoids chik-V mistake

Published:Monday | January 18, 2016 | 12:00 AMDaraine Luton
Former Ministry of Health, Dr Fenton Ferguson

Long before he was transferred out of the Ministry of Health, Dr Fenton Ferguson took the necessary steps to ensure that any suspected case of the Zika virus (ZIKV) that was detected in Jamaica by medical doctors was to be reported to the ministry within 24 hours.

By way of an order published in the Gazette, dated August 3, 2015, and signed by Ferguson, Zika virus is now included in the Public Health (Class 1 Notification Diseases) Act. A notification disease is one that is required, by law, to be reported to the authorities to be used in the monitoring of outbreaks.

With the inclusion of ZIKV in the Public Health (Class 1 Notification Diseases) Act, if a medical practitioner "suspects that a person has contracted any of the diseases" mentioned in Class 1, "the medical practitioner shall forthwith, or not later than 24 hours after the case is discovered", make a report to the Public Health Department for the parish in which the suspected case has been found.


Chik-V contrast

This is in stark contrast to 2014 when Ferguson signed a ministerial order on October 1 that year, which included chikungunya fever (chik-V) and the Ebola virus on the list of diseases that must be reported to the health ministry immediately.

Before being placed on the Class One list, doctors had no obligation to do prompt reporting of suspected chik-V cases, and that led to the health ministry being unable to properly track the impact the disease was having on Jamaica.

Chik-V, which, like ZIKV, is spread through bites from the Aedes aegypti mosquito, was first detected on the island on July 14, 2014 and Ferguson delayed adding chik-V to the Class One list until October 1, when the disease was already widespread.

"They are trying not to replicate the same error they made with chikungunya. In this case, the public-health system is seeking to ensure that, on their side, they are ready, and they are trying to ensure that the public is also ready," Professor Marvin Reid, director of the Tropical Metabolism Research Unit at the University of the West Indies (UWI), told The Gleaner yesterday.

"We don't want to be caught with our pants down twice," Reid added.

The professor said that the Jamaican authorities are clearly being more proactive than before.