Grave er­rors in dead ba­bies’ re­port

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Abka FitzHen­ley Abka Fitz-Hen­ley is the se­nior re­porter at Na­tion­wide News Net­work who broke the story con­cern­ing the UHWI baby deaths, which won him a Fair Play Award re­cently. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­ and abkafitzhen­ley@ya­

PUBLIC DE­FENDER Arlene Har­ri­son Henry has stated that no bac­te­rial in­fec­tion out­break took place at the Univer­sity Hospi­tal of the West Indies (UHWI) be­tween June and Oc­to­ber of 2015. Mrs Har­ri­son Henry has premised her cu­ri­ous con­clu­sion on ev­i­dence that she says was given to her by for­mer UHWI chief of staff, Pro­fes­sor Trevor Mc­Cart­ney, who re­signed amid the 2015 con­tro­versy. In her re­port, which has sparked public back­lash, Mrs Har­ri­son Henry pro­fessed to ac­cept Pro­fes­sor Mc­Cart­ney as “a wit­ness of truth”.

Au­dio records con­firm that the gen­tle­man on whose word the public de­fender premised her con­clu­sion that no out­break took place at the UHWI neona­tal unit, had pub­licly de­scribed the bac­te­rial in­fec­tions at the UHWI in June as an “out­break” which, in August of that year, de­vel­oped into a “big­ger prob­lem” and “a cri­sis” to the ex­tent that he was com­pelled to in­form the health min­istry on Septem­ber 7, 2015.

On Novem­ber 15 that year, Pro­fes­sor Mc­Cart­ney stated on Na­tion­wide Ra­dio: “I have made it very clear that on Septem­ber 7, the Min­istry of Health was in­formed of the pre­vi­ous out­break in June, which had been suc­cess­fully treated.” Mc­Cart­ney con­tin­ued: “Come August, we re­alised that we had a big­ger prob­lem and, there­fore, we con­tacted the Min­istry of Health for as­sis­tance with the cri­sis.”

The ref­er­enced public record con­firms that Mrs Har­ri­son Henry’s con­clu­sion that it is clear that Pro­fes­sor Mc­Cart­ney did not reckon “out­break” to be an “ap­pli­ca­ble term to de­scribe the in­fec­tious hap­pen­ings at the UHWI” is both mis­lead­ing and un­true.

Records also con­firm that Mc­Cart­ney’s pro­nounce­ments of an “out­break”, “a big­ger prob­lem” and “a cri­sis” all ren­der as in­cred­i­bly flawed and in­ac­cu­rate Mrs Har­ri­son’s con­clu­sion that noth­ing un­usual took place at the UHWI be­tween June and Oc­to­ber of 2015. The sit­u­a­tion gets worse. Na­tional epi­demi­ologst Dr Karen Web­ster; Per­ma­nent Sec­re­tary Dr Kevin Har­vey; then port­fo­lio min­is­ter, Fenton Ferguson; Chief Med­i­cal Of­fi­cer Dr Mar­ion Bul­lock­Du­casse; the then Ja­maica Med­i­cal Doc­tors’ As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent, Al­fred Dawes; and the coun­try’s then prime min­is­ter, Por­tia Simp­son Miller are all on public record as re­peat­edly de­scrib­ing as an out­break what Mrs Har­ri­son Henry has sug­gested did not tran­spire and has elected to re­fer to as mere “in­fec­tious hap­pen­ings”.

In her ‘wis­dom’, the public de­fender chose not to in­ter­view any of the six above-men­tioned author­i­ties be­fore ar­riv­ing at her con­clu­sion. She must tell the coun­try why.


The public de­fender’s claim that the con­cept of an out­break was a me­dia cre­ation is also un­true. The facts are as fol­lows. On Oc­to­ber 16, 2015, Na­tion­wide News Net­work re­ported that a bug was killing ba­bies at the Univer­sity Hospi­tal of the West Indies and emer­gency mea­sures had been ac­ti­vated to con­tain the sit­u­a­tion. At no time dur­ing the ini­tial re­portage was the word ‘out­break’ used.

Dr Bul­lock-Du­casse in­tro­duced the term ‘out­break’ to de­scribe the sit­u­a­tion at the UHWI and Corn­wall Re­gional.

At an emer­gency me­dia con­fer­ence called on Oc­to­ber 19, 2015, Dr Bul­lock­Du­casse au­thor­i­ta­tively used the term ‘out­break’ at least twice. She said, “There were two out­breaks at the Corn­wall Re­gional Hospi­tal and the UHWI in June to July and then the cur­rent out­break in both fa­cil­i­ties. Forty-two ba­bies were in­fected and, yes, 18 died.”

Fur­ther to the above, it is as­ton­ish­ing that the public de­fender has sug­gested in her re­port that “the con­cept of an out­break was a me­dia cre­ation”. I chal­lenge the public de­fender to sup­ply ev­i­dence of lo­cal or in­ter­na­tional me­dia re­ports prior to the health min­istry’s Oc­to­ber 19, 2015 me­dia con­fer­ence that de­scribed the sit­u­a­tion at the UHWI as an out­break. Mrs Har­ri­son Henry can­not so do be­cause such re­ports do not ex­ist.

Another as­ton­ish­ing ob­ser­va­tion about the public de­fender’s so-called probe into the scan­dal is that Mrs Har­ri­son Henry’s of­fice fo­cused only on the UHWI. She ad­mit­ted on public ra­dio re­cently that she did not in­ves­ti­gate the circumstances at the Corn­wall Re­gional Hospi­tal (CRH), where the ma­jor­ity of the baby deaths oc­curred.

For­mer act­ing Public De­fender Ma­tondo Mukulu has de­scribed the fail­ure to probe circumstances at CRH as un­ac­cept­able. It is no sur­prise that Mr Mukulu has said the re­port has “gap­ing holes”. A Gleaner editorial has de­scribed Mrs Har­ri­son Henry’s re­port as a con­tor­tion, while cur­rent af­fairs com­men­ta­tor Mark Wig­nall has dubbed the doc­u­ment “sus­pect, shameful and a sham”.

It is im­por­tant that the public de­fender with­draw her re­port and also re­spond to the is­sues raised above if con­fi­dence is to be re­posed in her of­fice.

PublicFILE De­fender Arlene Har­ri­son Henry has been crit­i­cised in var­i­ous quar­ters for gaps in her re­port on the deaths of preterm ba­bies at the UHWI in 2015.

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