Is the health ministry allergic to forward planning for future pandemics?Thursday, July 29, 2021
When the novel coronavirus pandemic overran the Jamaican health system last year and panicked the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW), the one good thing was that it exposed our abject unpreparedness to handle epidemics or pandemics.
At the same time, on the international level, all the experts expressed certainty that the novel coronavirus would not be going away any time soon and, more importantly, that more deadly viruses are going to be a part of future reality.
Any serious thinker in the MOHW should, by now, more than a year later, have come up with a comprehensive plan to prepare the country for the continued presence of COVID-19 and the likelihood of future pandemics impacting Jamaica.
It was therefore very disconcerting that when this newspaper asked Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton if there were any infrastructure plans for hospitals and health centres to handle COVID-19 going forward, our query was met with stony silence.
The last such plan we are aware of is the 2007 guide which drew heavily on the World Health Organization (WHO) at a time when Jamaica and the rest of the world were faced with the pandemic influenza threat known as the avian or bird flu.
Once that threat was past Jamaica's health authorities simply relaxed and moved right along with business as usual. The novel coronavirus therefore exposed the lack of foresight that has been the bane of our national existence.
The deep devastation of our economy and the battering our people have taken from this virus would suggest that somewhere in the public health apparatus led by Dr Tufton, someone would be saying never again will we be caught napping.
A responsible MOHW would be using the lessons learnt from COVID-19 to craft a detailed guide covering all procedures, guidelines, and actions to be taken within and by the health sector and other government agencies.
Such a plan would focus on people and entities to be involved in planning and responding to a pandemic — health planners, public health and clinical health care managers and providers; essential service providers, immigration and Customs workers, as well as those involved in the media and communications.
It would provide national guidance for key stakeholders in developing and operationalising responses across the public and private sectors at all levels to ensure that Jamaica is optimally prepared and has the capacity to respond to a future pandemic threat and the continued presence of COVID-19.
Early identification and deployment of the additional resources required is absolutely key. It's an investment that must be made and not doing so is not an option. Governments are elected to lead and not to be satisfied with giving excuses about lack of resources when a country's very existence is at stake.
Fortunately, Jamaica has good friends in the international system to which we can go for critical financing, including grants and other resources, if we can show the need and our inability to provide the necessary funding.
The Ministry of Health and Wellness is the lead agency in this effort. It must lead.
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