“…the health minister expressed surprise that the issue had been made public since he had met with the parties and the agreement was for media silence…”
When, at the time, Jamaicans were sounding off on the fact that the Minister (*sigh*) did not have a grip on his portfolio, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller’s interpretation of accountability was to have the Minister assist with clean-up activities in her constituency.
Minister (if we can call him that in the real sense) Fenton Ferguson was saved by a broom.
On October 16, 2015, the nation learned (by way of Nationwide Radio journalist Abka Fitz-Henley), that there was an outbreak of some sort at the Cornwall Regional and UHWI Hospitals; an outbreak resulting in the death of newborns.
As if this bit of news isn’t disheartening on its own, try contextualizing it by the fact that Minister Ferguson is sitting on an audit he commissioned highlighting the sorry state of our health facilities.
The health audit came as a result of the revelation (in May 2015) of Dr. Alfred Dawes, former head of the Jamaica Medical Doctors Association, that doctors were working in unhygienic conditions with limited medical supplies.
In September 2015, Dr. Ferguson disclosed a summary of the findings. No details, because, according to him, “it would prejudice the facilities.” (Jamaica Observer, September 3, 2015)
That was September. Newborns were already dying as a result of a Klebsiella infection outbreak that their parents (and the public) were yet to find out about.
The writing was on the wall when, in every interview with the press, it was emphasized that the babies who died were premature. I understand the increased susceptibility to infections in premature babies. What I cannot understand, and WILL NOT accept, is an insinuation and an attitude that suggests that these babies did not have a fighting chance at life at all. Because, you see, they didn’t die because they were premature. They died because of an outbreak of an infection that is associated with other Hospital Acquired Infections (HAIs).
The Centre for Disease Control details how Klebsiella can be spread:
In healthcare settings, Klebsiella bacteria can be spread through person-to-person contact (for example, from patient to patient via the contaminated hands of healthcare personnel, or other persons) or, less commonly, by contamination of the environment. The bacteria are not spread through the air.
Patients in healthcare settings also may be exposed to Klebsiella when they are on ventilators (breathing machines), or have intravenous (vein) catheters or wounds (caused by injury or surgery). Unfortunately, these medical tools and conditions may allow Klebsiella to enter the body and cause infection. – CDC
So, it was just a matter of time before Dr. Ferguson, during his presentation to Parliament on October 27, 2015, said this (ad lib, in response to questions by the Opposition):
“When babies are born under seven months, their organs are not well developed … . Their immune systems are significantly compromised, so I don’t want anyone to give any impression that these are babies in the real sense…” (from The Jamaica Gleaner, October 28, 2015).
The Prime Minister’s response in all of this?
“I want to extend sympathies to members of the families, and I hope that the Ministry of Health and the minister will look at the present system to see what needs to be done to ensure that what happened will never, ever happen again.”
The Chik-V outbreak was in 2014. A broom saved Dr. Ferguson then.
And here we are today.
It is not enough for him to say he wasn’t informed. And how would he know? On October 27, when asked if the health audit made reference to newborn deaths as a result of poor sanitization, the Minister responded, “I’ll have to check.”
Wait. Did he not at least read the audit? The public audit HE commissioned and is now treating as his personal diary?
We cannot accept less than a resignation from this man. He accepts responsibility for nothing. His leadership of the Ministry of Health is weak at best – catastrophic if we’re talking in the real sense. Real change in the system must start with a change at the top. We cannot entrust the task of change with someone who refuses to even acknowledge his own responsibility as a starting point for change. A new system cannot be entrusted to someone who has overseen multiple (life-threatening) episodes of a breakdown.
He gotta go.
Nineteen families are now grieving for their babies for whom they had every hope and dream.
It is a grief unimaginable. And it is real.
– @MizDurie, @THINKJamaica
(You may also view this blog post on THINK Jamaica’s Facebook page here.)