(A news report on the economic effects of ChikV can be found here).
At the same time, the Jamaican Government is grappling with the rapid decline of trust in its competence to address matters of public health. You see, as more and more citizens fall victim to the debilitating effects of ChikV, it is becoming increasingly apparent that this is not a virus for which the Government adequately prepared the nation. Despite Health Minister, Dr. Fenton Ferguson’s attempts to convince us otherwise, we just weren’t ready. Hardly any public awareness adverts. No major emphasis on cleanup and prevention. Instead, we were caught off guard, and all our efforts seemed to have been reactive. In his own address to the nation on September 28, 2014, despite
boasting about telling us that the Government has been preparing for the introduction of ChikV for two years (according to this Jamaica Observer report), the first meeting with all the major stakeholders together didn’t take place until shortly before his address, on September 25, 2014.
Public sentiment called for the Minister to be held accountable for his obvious mishandling of the matter. Prime Minister Simpson Miller disagreed. According to her, there is no reason for him to be fired…yet. Here’s why:
“I personally believe that Dr. Ferguson tried his very best, and…he’s one of the hardest working Ministers as well in a number of areas. If you’re having a cleanup he’s present. If you’re having something and it has to do with something like ChikV, he would pop in and he would speak to it to you.” – PM Simpson Miller, October 10, 2014 (Listen to the clip here)
Pardon? So his qualifications to develop policies, measures and strategies to address the outbreak of this awful virus is centered around his ability to push a broom?
Well…let’s talk Ebola, then!
So now there is talk of Ebola preparedness. The Government -through Minister of Information, Sandrea Falconder – in its attempt to allay fears and minimize the panic and hysteria that is usually associated with news of the disease, says this:
“This is new to us. Dr. Harvey is not the biggest expert. He’s probably the best one we have here, but he has never been immersed in preparation or dealing with Ebola before. We’re going to make mistakes. We’re not perfect. What we don’t need is that when we make a little misstep, that it becomes the only story. And the importance of preparing our people for Ebola if it does come here gets lost in the hype and the sensationalism.” – Minister of Information, Sandrea Falconer, October 30, 2014 (Listen to the clip here)
Nope. No reason to panic…AT ALL. I mean, it’s just a little Ebola, we’ll make mistakes. Just try not to let that be the story. Minister Falconer told the nation that in their handling of this, they will (so definitive, too!) make mistakes. Perhaps she doesn’t realize that mistakes, depending on how grave, could be a matter of life and death. How on earth can she expect the nation to entrust its public health to an administration which, instead of reassuring its citizens that it is vigorously researching and pursuing best practices, gives a disclaimer to deflect blame if…no, make that WHEN (she did say “are going to make mistakes”) anything does go wrong?
The messaging is already horribly wrong. Minister Falconer needs to understand that a disclaimer saying “We are going to make mistakes” has NO PLACE in the Ebola response strategy!
But don’t panic. Dr. Ferguson is still Minister of Health, and “Dr. Harvey is not the biggest expert.”