Just some months ago, I could not take up my devices without seeing news of Chik-V plastered on social media and throughout traditional media. Jamaica was well aware of Chik-V and its complications because back then, people were trying to win over voters so that they could win seats and form government. H1N1 would wiggle its way in close to the February election and had people jumping for joy at the news of every infection and every demise.
Let’s fast forward to now, and you realize that those who trumpeted their desire to keep Jamaica informed weren’t so genuine about informing the citizens because now that they have won their seats, health information can now take a back seat. There’s no longer clamoring for proactive management of diseases- reactive has become acceptable. The loud voices have been reduced to whispers perhaps. Portia Simpson Miller’s Presidency of the PNP has become more important to Jamaica than how we manage the health sector and health crises. Portia Simpson Miller and the PNP, though out of government, haven’t been short of newspaper front pages even while lives are ravaged by Zika Virus and the complications of same.
In a country where allocation to the health sector is woefully inadequate, proactive and not reactive management must be the order of the day. With all the flack for the reactive approach to Chik-V, one would then expect Zika Virus to be proactively managed. And a proactive approach to Zika Virus is what then Minister Horace Dalley took in his few months managing the health ministry; establishing a local testing facility and also recommending that all pregnant women be tested. One would expect greater efficiency would be the order of the day with the country’s own Zika testing facilities and the lessons from Chikungunya, but alas, we are reactive as per usual. Several months after a link was identified between Zika and Guillan-Barré, many still do not know what this complication is or what it means.
Guillain-Barré Sydrome and microcephaly in newborns are just two of the complications now linked to the Zika Virus which isn’t being effectively managed. The equation of Public Relations to good management seems to have confused a nation. Government operatives have shut down the debates on female reproductive health (specifically abortion) in the face of Zika complications and the nation still awaits the plans to ensure intensive care or high dependency unit spaces are available to tackle a worsening crisis consequential to Guillain-Barré Syndrome. There are still so many Jamaicans who do not know what symptoms to look out for to ensure proactivity where Zika and Guillain-Barré are concerned. We need an education campaign and it cannot be limited to social media.
I implore the MOH and GOJ to shift gear where management of health is concerned to make the approach a more proactive one. The Ministry needs to:
1) Engage in a massive campaign to bring light to the epidemics/pandemics that are facing us. Health empowerment is paramount in managing the health crises that loom.
2) Proactively (and not reactively) put a plan in place to deal with the shortage of intensive care and high dependency unit spaces which could leave our baxides exposed if the Guillan-Barré outbreak gets much worse.
3)Present to the nation a plan to finance the medical expenses associated with the treatment of Guillain-Barré Syndrome which runs millions per patient.
4) Take seriously the consideration for expanding medically recommended abortions to include those detected to have microcephalic foetuses. Dr Dayton Campbell seems to be the only one to have taken seriously this aspect of women’s reproductive health. I am disappointed that women (and more than one man) in parliament haven’t raised this topic.
5) Test all pregnant mothers. Only 1 in 4 persons will display symptoms of Zika Virus. The minister then cannot mandate that only the mothers to be tested are those who display symptoms of Zika Virus.
Health care, unfortunately, is not one of those areas of government that can be managed just by good government PR. It is time to be proactive or else…
Read: Zika and Guillain-Barré Syndrome (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention) http://www.cdc.gov/zika/about/gbs-qa.html
Delano Frankly’s battle with Guillain-Barré Syndrome (The Jamaica Observer) http://m.jamaicaobserver.com/mobile/news/A-costly-journey-to-death-s-door-and-back_68981