‘Dead babies a 9-day wonder’

Dr slams media, says Ferguson and health workers treated unfairly

BY KIMBERLEY HIBBERT Observer staff reporter hibbertk@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, January 07, 2016

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ONE of Jamaica’s senior medical doctors yesterday declared that the dead babies scandal that shocked the country and led to the reassignment of Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson late last year was a nine-day wonder which the media used to launch unfair attacks on Dr Ferguson and other health sector workers.

According to Professor Horace Fletcher, dean of the Faculty of Medical Sciences at the University of the West Indies, Mona, the press failed to investigate the tragedy, resulting in health care workers being judged and found guilty.

"What happened recently with the babies with infection, and I will not say [dying] from infection — these babies had infection and they died; something like 20 of them between Cornwall Regional, University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI), and one from Bustamante [Hospital for Children] — the press had a grand time, and they really attacked us, especially at UHWI, we were under serious attack," Professor Fletcher said.

He was speaking at the Jamaica Midwives’ Association and University of the West Indies School of Nursing (UWISON) public forum dubbed ‘Strategic Conversation: Transforming Midwifery to Meet the 2030 Agenda’.

His comments, made in greetings to the forum at the UWI, come three months after news emerged that 19 premature babies died as a result of bacteria outbreaks at UHWI and Cornwall Regional Hospital between June and September last year.

The public outcry and pressure on the Government eventually led to Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller reassigning Dr Ferguson to the labour ministry and replacing him with Horace Dalley.

Yesterday, Dr Fletcher lauded the midwives for their work with babies and stated that Dr Ferguson and other health workers were treated unfairly because of the scandal.

He said that not many journalists "took the time to really investigate what they were going to write about. They just kept writing what everybody was saying.

"I was stunned one day when I opened a paper and saw ‘20 babies killed!’ No one took the time to await the investigations or post-mortems. We were judged and the jury found us guilty.

"Some people got hard-whipped and some people got run out of town. It was very unfair, I thought, but all of this nine-day wonder has now been shifted to bad gas," Dr Fletcher stated.

He added that prior to the ‘dead babies issue’, the Ministry of Health had "initiated and obtained a grant of close to $3 billion from the European Union PROMAC (Programme for the Reduction of Maternal and Child Mortality) to tackle this exact same thing".

He said the country was fortunate to have a very good team from the ministry, who obtained this grant in order to decrease maternal mortality and newborn mortality rates locally.

Dr Fletcher also stated that [some of] the plans for the money was to train doctors and nurses to run high-dependency maternal and neonatal units in six hospitals across the island.

"We are training the doctors to be able to run these clinics, and we are also leading in the research as to the causes and the loss of mother and child," he said.

"We were in the middle of doing this, and fortunate enough to get a lot of the money to train people and buy badly needed equipment for our special care nursery, our intensive care units, and so on. I thank them for choosing us to do this very important work, as our maternal mortality rates are astronomical. This initiative will go a far way to decrease the problems that we face," Dr Fletcher said.

He maintained that the safe delivery and health of mothers and newborns are due to the work of midwives and doctors, and pointed out that mishaps were not the result of deliberate actions.

"We don’t deliberately go out there and kill babies, but during our work these things can happen," he said.

He added that the health institutions are old; however, efforts are being made to upgrade them.

"We all know that the university is 60 years old, the hospital is 60 years old. We all know that it needs to be upgraded. We all know that many of the facilities are being upgraded, and that’s where this PROMAC programme comes in," he said.

The forum — brainchild of Cynthia Pitter, lecturer in the UWISON and doctoral student at the Institute for Gender and Development Studies, UWI — was held to enable midwives to be agents of change to break the silence, improve quality of and respect for care of patients, and aim to meet the Millennium Development Goals that speak to child mortality and maternal health for which midwifery plays an important role.


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