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Too Late for Jamaican Government to ‘Kiss and Make Up’ When It Comes to Chikungunya

A man from the Dominican Republic bows his head as a child walks into a hospital for treatment. The disease has spread quickly Caribbean-wide. Photo courtesy the Pan American Health Organisation, used under a CC BY-ND 2.0 license.

A man from the Dominican Republic bows his head as a child walks into a hospital for treatment. The disease has spread quickly Caribbean-wide. Photo courtesy the Pan American Health Organisation, used under a CC BY-ND 2.0 license.

As Chikungunya, a mosquito-born virus that causes high fever and acute joint pain, continues to run rampant throughout the Caribbean, regional governments have been grappling with how to deal with the outbreak.

In Jamaica, where the number of Chik-V cases is steadily climbing, the People's National Party, under the leadership of Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller, has been coming under fire for letting the situation get out of hand and not being prepared for the fallout. This week, Simpson-Miller said that the country is in the midst of a “national emergency” because of the Chik-V outbreak.

Carolyn Joy Cooper, who blogs at Jamaica Woman Tongue, was irate over the ineffective way in which the Jamaican government has dealt with the situation. The Ministry of Health has not done much in the way of educating the public about the virus and how it is spread; laboratories are running out of reagents to test for the disease and hospitals do not always seem to have access to the medicine needed to treat it.

Cooper noted that “almost a year ago, in December 2013, the World Health Organisation reported that chik-V was in the Caribbean” and wondered why the country's Ministry of Health has been reactive, when it had every opportunity to be proactive:

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? 

[…]

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.

Economically, Jamaica is in a tricky position, partly because it is shackled to the International Monetary Fund, from which it accepted a $932 million loan in 2013, with $68.8 million soon to be released. The government apparently continues to throw money that it doesn't have behind the problem. On Twitter, one user quipped:

Meanwhile, the minister of health, in responding to the country's first fatality from the disease, has said that he would like to be infected in order to understand what people have been experiencing.

In typical West Indian fashion, some netizens decided to look at the lighter side of the situation, sharing popular cartoonist Clovis’ take on the government's response to the outbreak of the virus:

Some have also pointed out that citizens must also shoulder their part of the responsibility for creating environments in which the mosquitoes thrive. Nicole West-Hayles tweeted:

Blogger Cooper addressed the Jamaican prime minister's call for Jamaicans 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.

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