(JAMAICA OBSERVER) — Senior medical doctors interviewed by the Jamaica Observer last week have insisted that the outbreak of the deadly dengue disease that has collared this north Caribbean island, is the worst catastrophe to have happened around the region in its history.
Simultaneously, two of them maintain that Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton; and the ministry’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Jacquiline Bisasor McKenzie, were not open enough in providing statistics in respect of the correct number of fatalities caused by dengue.
Up to last week, around 66 people had been officially cited as having died from the disease, but the senior doctors argued that “far more” had met their demise — one even suggesting that the numbers were in the hundreds.
“Look don’t make Tufton and Bisasor McKenzie fool you. Much more people have died, hundreds of Jamaicans have gone on not even having an idea of what really hit them. The minister and the CMO need to come clean and tell the truth about the dengue outbreak. Playing with figures will not get people better,” a medical practitioner with over 40 years experience in the private and public health sectors stated.
“Every hospital is inundated with dengue patients,” another senior doctor told the Sunday Observer. He too cited limited disclosure on the part of the Ministry of Health and Wellness as one “negative” of the ongoing dengue fight. “The official people, like the minister, the chief medical officer, even the permanent secretary should come with the real facts. The public relations campaign that they are now doing is a sham. It is just designed to make them look good as seniors in the ministry, but the reality is that the situation with the dengue outbreak is distressing. It’s rough out there,” the consultant said.
Another consultant who works in the Corporate Area and St Catherine said that he was “appalled” that the situation had grown to such proportions.
“Take it from me, it is tough as far as dengue is concerned. People are dying as a result of dengue and we are not hearing about it. I had a colleague, a nurse, who started to bleed from her nostrils only last week, she went to the hospital where it was discovered that she had contracted dengue, and she never left there alive.
“A friend of mine, a lab technician, his two children caught it and they were spared death in the nick of time; but many others were not so lucky. But it’s what the ministry tells us that leaves me annoyed and upset, because it has now come down to a public relations game – tell the people to destroy mosquito-breeding sites, which is good, but a message must be equally sent that more and more people are dying from the disease after they contracted it, and so they should be more careful,” the consultant said.
And a western Jamaica practitioner, who said that he had a problem with how the Cornwall Regional Hospital was being managed, also dived into the dengue debate. He said that “scores” of people in the west had succumbed to the disease, as the hospital’s staff was overwhelmed with the number of people that turn up at the Type A facility, daily.
“It is bad down here. But nationally, hundreds have died, including some with pre-existing conditions like pneumonia and renal failure, who, having contracted dengue, have died from complications of it.
“The minister must come clean on the numbers. I know that he does not want to frighten the nation, but the true story must be told so that Jamaicans on a whole may be more aware of what is happening and treat their surroundings better. When you don’t disclose the real numbers, people tend to be more relaxed and complacent. That forceful message must be sent so that it brings a greater level of seriousness to the process.”
The chickungunya virus, called Chik-V which rocked the Jamaican landscape over five years ago, which also resulted in scores of death due to complications from pre-existing conditions, was described as “mild” by one doctor, in comparison to what has been happening with the dengue outbreak.
“Chik-V is a boy compared to dengue. There should be no comparison at all. So many people came down on the health minister of the day [Dr Fenton Ferguson] following the Chik-V scare, but I don’t hear those same people giving Tufton some licks like he deserves. Instead, they seem to be bought on this PR exercise that he has embarked on.
“This is the worst ever disease to have hit the Caribbean region. It is a virtual nightmare.”
There was no immediate response from Dr Tufton to the latest claims, but the minister in a national broadcast on the situation a week ago said that fighting the dengue outbreak had been a “big challenge” for his administration.
“Dengue has become a major public health problem worldwide. The Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes are transmitters of the dengue virus.
“Dengue is the fastest spreading mosquito-borne viral disease in the world. In the last 50 years, incidences have increased 30 times, being estimated at 390 million cases per year, with 96 million cases manifesting symptoms. This viral infection is endemic in over 100 countries including Jamaica, with frequent outbreaks.
“In the region of the Americas, for 2019 up to the end of September, a total of 2.6 million cases of dengue have been reported, including 1,080 deaths. The number of cases reported in 2019 is higher than the annual totals reported ever before in the region of the Americas.”
He did not give figures for deaths caused by dengue in Jamaica.
“Dengue fever is preventable,” Tufton continued. “Prevention begins with stopping the mosquitos from breeding. In this regard, the Ministry of Health & Wellness has stepped up its enhanced vector control programme to include:
“One thousand temporary vector control workers employed to do public education and “search and destroy” activities in communities to eliminate breeding sites;
“Expanded Fogging Programme to kill the adult mosquitos in high-risk and other communities;
“And we have rolled out a public education campaign in all forms of media to educate and inform all members of the public on how to decrease their risk and treat the illness if they should become infected.
“We have partnered with the National Solid Waste Management Authority for solid waste removal; and the municipal corporations and MPs for vector control activities in communities,” the minister said.
Tufton said that the ministry had also extended the opening hours at some health centres, while others were opened on Saturdays.
Free treatment was offered to children under age 12 at the University Hospital of the West Indies in St Andrew.
“I make a special appeal to all Jamaicans to partner with the Government by taking action, including searching your surroundings at home, workplace, school and communities for mosquito-breeding sites. I ask also that you support our routine vector control activities, by allowing the workers to safely carry out their duties.
Jamaicans, prevention is better than cure, so let us destroy those mosquito- breeding sites. In the event, that you display symptoms including fever, headache, vomiting or rash, please visit your doctor or health centre to get treatment. At the same time, please exercise patience and cooperate with our health care workers. Together we can work to end this outbreak and to ensure that everyone, especially persons at high risk, including our children and the elderly are safe and in good health,” Tufton stated in his address.
Several efforts to contact Bisasor-McKenzie were unsuccessful.