Thu | Dec 7, 2023

So, who's responsible?

Published:Thursday | November 6, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Michael Aiken, Guest Columnist

After reading Dr Michael Abrahams' revealing piece on chikungunya (Monday, November 3) titled, 'We were warned', I am angry, very angry, especially as a citizen and on behalf of all Jamaican citizens listed in the group, "at risk of fatality from chikungunya because of pre-existing medical conditions". Dr Abrahams revealed that on May 28-30, 2012, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), along with the Division of Vector-Borne Diseases of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (DVBD, CDC), sponsored a Caribbean subregional chickungunya awareness conference.

Participants were health-service practitioners and 'watchmen' from 22 countries, including the Ministry of Health (MOH). International experts and health professionals present at the meeting, Abrahams told us, prepared a 34-page document outlining steps to be taken to deal with chikungunya.

If this information is true, then the failure to prevent the spread of this terrible virus is a disgrace of national or international proportions! For the PAHO, DVBD or CDC's information delivery was insubstantial and incomprehensible (international disgrace), or our participants were ignorant and illiterate (national disgrace)! Either way, somebody should be held responsible and accountable! But who?

Of course, the easy answer is Dr Fenton Ferguson, minister of health; Dr Kevin Harvey, MOH permanent secretary; and Dr Marilyn Bullock Ducasse, director of emergency, disaster management and special service. What about our MOH parish Managers and regional directors in our four decentralised health regions?

Immediately after the conference and a year ago as chick-V ravaged the Eastern Caribbean, shouldn't they have warned us on how to fight it with vitamin C, vitamin E, leaf of life, papaya leaf, bissy, turmeric, echinacea, golden seal, gelsemium and other immune system boosters and joint-care homeopathic medicines.

"So, what the hell went wrong?" Dr Abrahams asked. "The ministry has not been honest with us ... saying that there were only 35 confirmed cases when some of my colleagues were seeing as many as that in one day." But be honest, Doc, did any individual doctor or the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ) hold a press conference or write an article and 'sound the alarm', as is now being done, much too late?


This begs the question: What about Dr Abrahams and his private-sector medical 'watchmen'? Shouldn't they shoulder some of the responsibility for the many deaths, the 13 million man-hours and $6 billion lost? That's a major blow to our GDP and we will consequently feel the pinch of poverty much, much more, because of the pick of this chik-V!

Here are three other angry considerations:

1) Who is to take responsibility for the long-term effects this dreadful virus may have on the 'at risk' citizens in our population? That's those of us who belong to the reported groups of eight per cent who have sickle cell anaemia, 7.8 per cent arthritis, 28.9 per cent hypertension, 17.2 per cent diabetes, 13.3 per cent asthma and an untold per cent with heart disease; all being chronic illnesses that chikungunya can make worse and even fatal!

2) What about our athletes? Do you realise that with a three to five-year 'shelf life' this chikungunya virus may hamper the development and performance of our current celebrity athletes and our up-and-coming ones, for the next few years? Do you realise we may therefore have no medals at the World Games in two years or at the Olympics in three years' time? That would be a major blow for Brand Jamaica!

3) What about our media? Should they bear some responsibility? There are excellent investigative journalists in both our print and broadcast media! Where were those investigative minds two years ago?

One final 'pipe-dream' question: Do you think any of our sharp legal minds will be bold enough to encourage and engage a Chikungunya Class Action or any advocacy action on behalf of any adversely impacted 'at risk' group, family or individual, as their peers in the USA would, in a debacle such as this?

In Jamaica, responsibility and accountability are not yet important constructs, much less values! When we wake up to that understanding, we will realise that responsibility and accountability cannot be confined to just one person or one set of persons! All 'watchmen' must be charged!

Understanding fully who is responsible and accountable may help us to know who to charge. Better yet, it may help us all take charge, as we prepare to survive other health challenges ahead.

May God help us!