If ever we needed each other, it is now


If ever we needed each other, it is now

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

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The entire country of Jamaica, by now, must be seized with the utter seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic, if only from seeing the devastation which the disease is wreaking from one end of the globe to the next.

What is also without question is the fact that each country is, in large measure, on its own and can depend on no other to bring it out of the grip of this terrible coronavirus. It is what we do that will determine how badly we suffer or how soon we regain control over it.

In that respect, it is absolutely necessary that we as a country respond with all our might to the urgent appeals being made by the Government to come to the aid of the health apparatus in the varied and many ways in which help is needed.

We were flabbergasted to learn from the Ministry of Health and Wellness that almost a third of private doctors here have closed their offices, and several private hospitals have been turning away suspected cases of COVID-19 in the face of the onslaught.

Granted, most of the private doctors fleeing the virus are said to be in the vulnerable age group for COVID-19, and their fear of falling victim of it is very real. Moreover, some of them do not have personal protective equipment.

The problem, though, is that no one should be in a better position to handle a virus outbreak than trained medical personnel. And those in the private sector are usually better off financially and would therefore be expected to be better equipped.

Mr Dunstan Bryan, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, could not have been more on point when he argued that the private sector medical service owed it to their loyal clientèle to be there for them in an hour of great need and this would be no time to abandon them.

As he was reported as saying in yesterday's edition of this newspaper, the public health service was already almost at capacity prior to the COVID-19 outbreak here. That is no secret to anyone, and certainly not to health personnel.

“We were already stretched before the outbreak. In January, 90 per cent of public hospitals were already at (bed) capacity. Since then we have had to commandeer a ward in all hospitals to prepare for the expected increase in confirmed cases.

“That meant sending home patients who were not in an acute condition. It is not difficult to see that if the patients who normally go to the private facilities are turned away, they would be forced to turn to the overstretched public institutions,” Mr Bryan said.

We have also reported that, based on the findings of a 2017 survey, the majority of Jamaica's 318 government health facilities and 24 hospitals were over 50 years old and needed refurbishing or rebuilding.

At the same time the public health system was losing nurses at an alarming rate and the number of physicians per 1,000 people in Jamaica was 1.32 as of 2017, down from 1.40 in 1997.

In this scenario, it is not difficult to imagine what would happen to Jamaica if the people and we are told that's 55 per cent of the population who normally used private health facilities had to turn to the public health sector: Nothing less than utter disaster if the virus gets out of control.

We sincerely hope that all Jamaicans will heed this call to patriotism by the health and wellness ministry.

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