Chikungunya Spells Death

hqdefaultReverend Glen Archer, our champion spelling coach, seems to have died from chik-V complications. According to a Gleaner article published last Sunday, “He had been suffering from renal failure for the past five years, requiring dialysis two to three times per week.



 But his condition worsened in December when he got the Chikungunya virus”.

I don’t suppose the ministry of health would count Reverend Archer’s death as chik-V-related. He was probably not a ‘confirmed’ case. But there is so much anecdotal evidence of death as a result of the virus. Why has the ministry refused to acknowledge the high number of suspected cases?

And why has chik-V vanished from the news? It certainly has not left the bodies of its victims. Many of us are still suffering: fingers cramped up; feet hurting; constant pain all over with very little prospect of lasting relief. Chik-V is now chronic. It’s stale news.

Apart from the announcement of Reverend Archer’s death and Dr Shane Alexis’ warning of worsening complications (‘Chik-V combo’, February 12, 2015),  one of the most recent references to chik-V on the Gleaner web site turned up in Dr. Michael Abrahams’ amusing poem, “2014 Year in Review”, posted on January 5, 2015: “CHIKV pop dung almost everybody”. Dr. Abrahams’ estimate of the spread of the disease is much higher than that of the ministry of health.  And probably far more accurate!

OUT OF NOWHERE?

On the Observer’s website, the report on Reverend Archer’s death published last Monday also pointed fingers at chik-V. Before that, the latest reference to chik-V appeared in Mrs. Barbara Gloudon’s column, “From CHIKV to scepticism in the nation’s health care”, published on January 9, 2015. Neither Dr. Abrahams’ poem nor Mrs. Gloudon’s opinion piece is hard-core news.

Mrs. Gloudon proposed that chik-V “could be regarded as one of the most disturbing events we have experienced in a long time”. And, as a veteran journalist, she fully understands how news works. So she adds: “One is tempted to brand it a nine-day wonder . . . . ” That’s the temptation the media, in all forms, must always resist – the big story that quickly burns out.

Mrs. Gloudon doesn’t end her sentence there. She continues, “but it has turned out to be more than that”.  Chik-V is noteworthy “for the sneakiness of its attack and how painful the hurt it brought us, the likes of which we had never known before. The pains still continue for many.

images-1“Last September, when out of nowhere it descended on us the minister of health soon became eligible for the unenviable title of most battered politician of the year. Beaten into submission by the growing tide of public disaffection over CHIKV, the national health system trembled”.

But chik-V did not sneak up on us. It did not descend from nowhere. In 2011, the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned us that chik-V was coming. They jointly published a document, Preparedness and Response for Chikungunya Virus Introduction in the Americas.

NO BETTER PORK, NO BETTER BARREL

I don’t know when that document reached Jamaica. Unless it arrived after December 29, 2011, the Jamaica Labour Party would have been the government in office. Was the minister of health, Dr. Baugh, aware of the threat of chik-V? And, if so, what did he do about it?

In an article published in the Observer on September 26, 2014, with the headline, “Baugh: Chikungunya now a full blown epidemic”, the former minister of health speaks out: “According to Dr Baugh, all the doubts raised by the Government in response to the Opposition’s complaints about the uncontrolled spread of chikungunya in Jamaica have now been erased. He accused the Government of being arrogant and out of touch with reality on the ground”.

PAHO-technical-reportDr. Baugh is right. But it’s a case of no better pork, no better barrel. Both the JLP and the PNP failed us. Chik-V should not have come on us like a thief in the night.   The security guards should not have been sleeping on the job. I suppose the JLP government was too busy campaigning in 2011 to pay attention to chik-V.

But what’s the ‘excuse’ of the present Government? In May 2012, PAHO and the CDC put on a training workshop on chik-V at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel. Fourteen people from Jamaica attended that meeting. Did they spread the word? It doesn’t seem so. They should all be fired for negligence.

I recently gave an old lady a ride to the University hospital. She thought she had chik-V. A friend of hers had recommended kerosene oil for the rash. After using it one time, she stopped. She didn’t like how her skin was looking.

One of the tragedies of the chik-V epidemic is that the medical doctors had no idea how to help us. At first, they prescribed Panadol. And that was it. Then they added steroids to their bag of tricks. So we resorted to all kinds of self-medication: leaf of life, bizi, guinea hen weed, single bible, kerosene oil!  On and on we experimented.

If chik-V didn’t kill us, the combination of ‘cures’ certainly could. The doctor who tried her best to treat my unconfirmed chik-V told me recently that a new strain of the virus is on its way. And dengue is here as well. PAHO estimates that there may be more deaths from dengue than Chik-V across the Caribbean. Only God can help us.

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Signs Of The Times: #Mosquitofidead

imagesFor the first time in more than 30 years, my sister, Donnette, didn’t come home for Christmas. I’m not amused. Like the wise men from the East, she always comes bearing gifts. These are not last-minute, hit-or-miss purchases. You know the obligatory gifts that nobody actually wants.

Many of my sister’s gifts are handmade. She’s a multimedia artist, masquerading as an attorney. Some of her gifts are exquisite thrift-shop finds. She has mastered the art of hunting for treasure in unlikely places. When I go thrift-shopping with her, I wander aimlessly around the store. All I can see is junk.

After a few minutes of idleness, I feel obliged to ‘find’ something. I usually do very well with books. I like hardbacks and you can find lots of them in very good condition. Americans no longer seem to read books much. And I might pick up a barely-used designer handbag which looks like a bargain at $30. And so it goes.

Then my sister comes and inspects my cart. She imperiously tells me to put back practically everything. The handbag is much too expensive. It will be on half-price sale in a couple of days. And if it’s gone, there’ll always be another one. On rare occasions, she actually approves of one or two of my selections. And I feel relieved. My thrift-shop game is improving.

DIE-HARD JAMAICANS

Thanks to chik-V, my Christmas gifts are languishing up north. Like many other Jamaicans I know, my sister decided it wasn’t worth the risk of infection to come home this year. I can think of at least 35 confirmed cases of the ‘no chik-V Christmas for me’ syndrome. Yes, Dr. Ferguson, we all know that 35 is the magic number.

costbenefitscaleThese fearful souls are die-hard Jamaicans who come home every single year. Sometimes, more than once. After hearing so many chik-V horror stories, able-bodied yardies a foreign did a careful cost-benefit analysis of their holiday options. Stay in the cold, far from those nasty mosquitoes; or come to the warmth of family and friends – and risk a deadly bite. The sensible ones stayed put.

I wonder if Dr Ferguson was thinking about Jamaicans abroad when he tried to hide the truth about the spread of chik-V from tourists. If the Ministry of Health had heeded the early warnings about the threat of the virus, we might have protected that sure tourist market of Jamaicans who come home often. Not to mention all those of us here who have suffered so terribly.

One year, my sister came for Christmas and got dengue. It was not pretty. So I completely understand why she decided not to come this time. She went to Florida instead. I reminded her that chik-V is there. And I promised to dead wid laugh if she got foreign chik-V.

DYING FROM CHIK-V

I really admire those hard-core Jamaicans who decided to brave the mosquitoes. Nothing can keep them away from home. They will always take their chances with us. And if chik-V is going to become endemic in the Caribbean, as the experts say, we’re just going to have to learn to live with it or die from it.

images-1On Christmas Eve, I called the Ministry of Health to get the current estimate of deaths that might have resulted from chik-V. Admittedly, this is not a cheery holiday topic. But unlike so many of our politicians, I don’t believe that ignorance is bliss. We might as well know the truth, however unpleasant.

I wasn’t able to get any figures out of the Ministry. The story goes something like this: We haven’t been able to confirm all the cases that look like chik-V. So we can’t know for sure how many deaths are chik-V-related. The Ministry of Health is still in denial.

I was told to visit the website of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO). I couldn’t easily see an answer to my question. I did find a Gleaner article by Anastasia Cunningham, published on October 4, 2014: “113 Suspected Chik-V-Related Deaths in Region”. According to that report, “Jamaica has recorded at least two deaths suspected to be related to the virus, which has a fatality rate of less than one per cent.”

WHO CARES?

With apologies to Elvis Presley, all I can say is:

Every time you give me figures I’m still not certain that they’re true

Every time you talk to me I’m still not certain that you care

Though you keep on saying we haven’t confirmed the chik-V cases

Do you speak the same words to someone else when I’m not there?

Suspicion torments my heart

Suspicion keeps us apart

Suspicion why torture me?

DV1012H_ackee-and-saltfish_s4x3On Christmas morning, I got this gloating email from my sister: “Ackee and salt fish ready. Mackerel run down running down. ‘Food’ cook and breadfruit and plantain frying”. She’s obviously at home. I don’t even have Christmas cake. My friend, Kemorine, who always gives me one of hers, didn’t bake this year. Her hands weren’t up to it. Yes, chik-V.

Two Sundays ago, I bought a tee shirt, designed by a Jamaican living in Florida. On the front, there’s the now-familiar image of a chicken with a gun and the words, “Chik-V Warrior”. On the back, there’s a clear sign of the times: “#mosquitofidead”. Fi true. Mosquito mash up mi Christmas!

Too Little, Too Late, Sister P!

article-2649672-1E7EF20800000578-911_634x419Almost a year ago, in December 2013, the World Health Organisation reported that chik-V was in the Caribbean. Mosquitoes on the island of St Martin-St Maarten had been infected with the virus and were spreading it to the human population.

Even before that, the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) jointly published in 2011 a vital document, Preparedness and Response for Chikungunya Virus Introduction in the Americas. It warned that “[t]he resulting large outbreaks would likely tax existing health-care systems and the public-health infrastructure, and could potentially cripple some of society’s functioning”.

That’s when the Government of Jamaica should have taken notice and started a public-education programme on the threat of the virus. Before it got here; not now. Why was our minister of health not paying attention then?

The PAHO-CDC document, which is available on the Internet, clearly states its objectives: “the prevention, detection, and timely response to outbreaks of CHIK through surveillance, case detection, investigation, and the launching of public-health actions”.

DIEHARD COMRADES

39871pnp72confn201009219rbThe document highlights the importance of Government sending out information that would “encourage informed decision making, positive behaviour change, and the maintenance of trust in public authorities”. This business of trust is crucial. But how many of us actually trust our public authorities? Even diehard Comrades who have been afflicted with chik-V cannot truthfully say they trust the word of the minister of health.

The Government should have been using both old and new media to spread accurate information on chik-V over the last three years. The PAHO-CDC guidelines acknowledge the fact that an outbreak of the disease can cause “confusion and controversy”. Chik-V has certainly made imaginative Jamaicans chat a lot of nonsense. Like saying it was the plane that crashed off the coast of Port Antonio on September 5 that brought the virus!

I suppose the minister of health will claim that the Government didn’t have the money to launch an expensive media campaign. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been forcing us to cut back on government spending. But in 2011, when those detailed warnings about managing chik-V were issued by PAHO-CDC, we should have told the IMF to ease off. A crippled workforce cannot possibly be productive.

MOSQUITO HOTELS

imagesAdmittedly, the problem of disease control is much bigger than the failure of Government to lead effectively. We can’t leave it all up to untrustworthy Government. Every single citizen must take some responsibility for protecting our neighbourhoods from the threat of disease. Yes, the Government must ensure that gullies are regularly cleaned. But we have to stop throwing rubbish into gullies.

Another environmental issue we have to deal with is abandoned lots that are all-inclusive hotels for mosquitoes, especially when it rains. So here’s my story on that score. There’s an empty lot behind my house and two more in front. On all of them, the grass is at least two metres high. I know only one of the proprietors of these mosquito hotels. I called him a couple of weeks ago about bushing the lot.

I’d heard that he’d recently sold the lot, so I really wanted to be put in touch with the new owner. I couldn’t believe it when he told me that the lot had been sold by a third party and he didn’t know the new owner. So I asked him to let me know who the third party was. He would have to call me back. I heard nothing from him.

STORY COME TO BUMP

Then last week, a woman stopped at my gate to ask if the lots were for sale. I told her I didn’t think any of them was on the market. But I suggested that she talk to the mosquito hotelier I knew. I called him. And story come to bump. His lot was sold, but if he got a better offer, he would consider it!

sin-picture2This is a nice Christian gentleman who must know that it is sinful, if not downright criminal, to be offering for sale property that is supposedly already sold. It seems as if the nice gentleman is pretending he doesn’t own the lot so he won’t have to be responsible for bushing it. Anyhow, he did assure me that he had contacted the owner and it would be bushed by the end of the month. I guess he talked to himself – the first sign of madness.

This is what is so wrong with Jamaica. We are just too selfish. The owner of an open lot doesn’t usually live anywhere near it. So it’s not his or her problem if the lot is an unsightly breeding ground for mosquitoes. Too bad for the people who just have to put up with it; or clean it up at their own expense.

At a press conference called last Thursday, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller appealed to our better nature. She asked us to help the Government cope with our public-health crisis. She should have done that three years ago. Chik-V batter-bruise wi now. It’s much too late to kiss and make up.

Prime Minister and Minister of Health at press conference on public health crisis

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and Minister of Health Fenton Ferguson at press conference on public-health crisis