The cost of chikungunya to Jamaica

Kent GAMMON

Monday, October 20, 2014

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THE chikungunya virus, also called CHIKV, is now ravaging the island of Jamaica, shutting down court cases, crippling productivity and, in some regretful instances, taking lives from complications associated with the virus.


The minister of health, when the alarm bells were first rung by the Jamaica Labour Party's caretaker for Eastern St Thomas, said he was politicking and scaremongering on the part of the Opposition party.


The minister of health insisted some weeks ago that only 34 cases were confirmed for chikungunya when, in that very week, almost half of an entire high school in Eastern St Thomas had its student population sick with the symptoms of the chikungunya virus.


The Opposition put on a press conference to inform the nation how to deal with the chikungunya virus and that the virus was spreading at an alarming rate. The minister of health then reluctantly had to admit, after the evidence was overwhelming with Jamaicans down with CHIKV, in an address to the nation that the country was dealing with an epidemic of CHIKV. Worse yet, the minister of health reported that his ministry had been preparing for the onslaught of the chikungunya virus some two years before it reached Jamaica.


The effects of an epidemic on the economic health of a nation are catastrophic and the CHIKV epidemic is no different. With the prediction that some 60 per cent of Jamaicans will be affected by CHIKV, that is one million six hundred thousand Jamaicans, and with a downtime of five to 10 days, we are estimating a loss to the Jamaican economy of at least $30 million using a daily wage of $2,000.00 per day. This is a very conservative estimate and is certainly not the type of loss to the island's income that Jamaica can afford in the throes of an IMF economic straightjacket.


A responsible and proactive Ministry of Health would have put out bulletins months before on how to prepare and avoid the CHIKV. The rest of the Cabinet, had they likewise been responsible and proactive, would have ensured the country was kept clean and breeding grounds for the Aedes Aegypti mosquito eradicated before the epidemic has run rampant; not while it is running rampant as is currently the case.


The National Solid Waste Management Authority had to confess in the middle of the CHIKV epidemic that they were well short of resources in collecting garbage and in general cleaning the country, and so the health of the Jamaican people has simply been left to divine providence.


The minister and his fellow Cabinet colleagues have demonstrated, in clear terms, their lack of fundamental seriousness in dealing with the chikungunya virus that they have said they were two years preparing for. All Jamaicans are praying that the scourge of the Ebola virus will steer clear of the island of Jamaica. With the complete bungling in this Administration's handling of the chikungunya virus, surely the Ebola virus, which has deadly consequences for its victims, cannot be handled in the same way.


The best cure is prevention


When the Opposition spokesman on health suggested weeks ago that there be a travel ban on people from countries in West Africa afflicted with the Ebola virus the minister of foreign affairs rubbished it with some nonsensical comments about it not really going to make a difference.


An American citizen, who visited Liberia within 15 days of arriving in Jamaica, changed that stance as the country's immigration and health officials scrambled with an appropriate response and landed the individual only to reverse decision within a few hours after the individual was released in the general population and sent the individual out of Jamaica.


The minister of health kept his job despite his glaring ineptitude in handling the chikungunya crisis. And, according to the prime minister, he helped her clean her constituency on her clean-up day activities. This is the leadership we have from the number one public servant; always putting politics before the people's health.


A doctor at the University Hospital of the West Indies in charge of communicable diseases and the like said recently on a radio interview this week that the biggest failure on the part of the Ministry of Health was not communicating with the people and health officials on the extent of the chikungunya crisis and how to deal with it.


The minister of health, and by extension his Cabinet colleagues, treated the chikungunya crisis more as a political football than an epidemic with life and death consequences and the people of Jamaica should send a clear message to the PNP not to play games with our lives.


The Opposition spokesman on health, Dr Kenneth Baugh, who had to deal with a polio outbreak scare back in 1983, and who handled that scare so effectively hardly anyone remembers it, has consistently said that the current Administration has to set up a chikungunya epicentre and go out into the country and aggressively track down those infected with the chikungunya virus so as to get a clear appreciation of the extent of the crisis and to stop it from spreading.


The minister of health has said that he wants to get the chikunguyna virus to see how it feels, so that he can appreciate what thousands of us have experienced with this dreadful life-changing chikungunya virus. Is that the best crisis management strategy he can come up with? He should do the decent thing and resign immediately as his ability to manage the health portfolio of the country, as demonstrated in clear terms, is complete wanting of a cohesive and preventative strategy in dealing with the country's health issues. The result is the stunting the nation's productivity.




Kent Gammon, LLM, is the deputy Opposition spokesman on industry, investment, commerce, mining and energy. Comments: kentgammon@gmail.com


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