Roundup: Jamaica appoints new health minister following poor handling of deadly bacterial outbreak

November 11, 2015 7:53 am 

KINGSTON, Nov. 10 — Jamaica's newly appointed health minister has officially taken up his duties Monday to fix the country's widely criticized health care system following the deaths of 19 infants from the recent outbreak of infectious bacteria at two of the island's major hospitals.

Former Health Minister Fenton Ferguson has been facing tremendous public pressure over the past weeks.

On Oct. 20, the Health Ministry announced that the recent outbreak of Klebsiella and Serratia bacterial infections at the University Hospital of the West Indies and the Cornwall Regional Hospital has killed 18 out of 42 infected infants.

Ferguson's remarks that the outbreak was "not a matter which would have been brought necessarily to the attention of the minister" quickly triggered outrage from the public.

On Oct. 27, Ferguson confirmed that 483 babies had been sent to hospitals' special care nurseries since the infection crisis started from June.

Among them, 45, or 9.3 percent, have had their illnesses attributed to the bacterial infection and the death toll has risen to 19, according to Ferguson.

By saying that most of the dead infants were premature and weighed less than two pounds, Ferguson didn't consider them "real" babies.

"When babies are born under seven months, their organs are not well developed …their immune systems are significantly compromised, so I don't want anyone to give any impression that these are babies in the real sense," he said.

The comments prompted backlash not only from the parliamentary opposition, but also from social media and public opinion, resulting in repeated calls for his resignation.

The Jamaican government reassigned the controversial minister to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security on Friday, and replaced him with Horace Dalley, who headed the Health Ministry between 2006 and 2007, in an obvious attempt to stop the political hemorrhage.

In an address to the nation on Sunday night, Jamaican Prime Minister Simpson Miller instructed the new health minister to make every effort as quickly as possible to correct the shortcomings in the health sector.

"The government feels the anguish of the mothers and fathers who have lost their babies. We are truly sorry for your pain and the loss of these precious lives. Our children should never suffer and it is our responsibility to make sure we protect them and give them the best life possible," she said.

"Our task is to ensure that as much as it is humanly possible, we eliminate such tragedies which cause great pain to our mothers, families and our nation," the prime minister added.

Miller argued that the government has made major investments in improving the health-care system to decrease maternal and prenatal fatalities but conceded that the internal audit of the health sector points to many deficiencies, which need to be addressed.

The audit report of the health sector, which was released before the removal of Ferguson as health minister, revealed a lack of adherence to standards and a severe shortage of resources.

The report found that some facilities were reusing disposable tubes, and some were even using items which expired almost 10 years ago.

Dalley has assured Miller that his first order of business will be to strengthen the health care system, and to eliminate the deaths of babies or adults caused by such bacterial outbreaks.

The prime minister expressed her confidence in Dalley's ability to bring critical improvement to the health sector in a timely manner, noting that he, with previous experience as health minister, is familiar with the portfolio and the system. (PNA/Xinhua)

RMA/LOR/SSC

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