Jamaica Gleaner - - FRONT PAGE - Erica Virtue Se­nior Gleaner Writer

IN A stun­ning twist to the re­cent tragic deaths of new­borns at the Vic­to­ria Ju­bilee Hospi­tal (VJH), The Sun­day

Gleaner has re­ceived a copy of a re­port re­quested of and sub­mit­ted by VJH of­fi­cials, which showed that 26 ba­bies had in fact died at the in­sti­tu­tion be­tween Au­gust and Septem­ber of this year.

Far more than the seven deaths that were ini­tially re­ported when

The Sun­day Gleaner broke the story on Oc­to­ber 9, and the four deaths that were ac­knowl­edged by the Min­istry of Health at a press con­fer­ence days later. This rep­re­sents an ap­prox­i­mate 550 per cent in­crease from what the min­istry is re­port­ing.

The ba­bies re­port­edly died af­ter con­tract­ing an in­fec­tion from their mothers dur­ing vag­i­nal de­liv­ery at the hospi­tal.

Af­ter the story broke, Health Min­is­ter Dr Christopher Tufton called for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the in­ci­dent and con­vened a com­mit­tee, which was charged to re­view the clus­ter of cases of Group B Strep­to­coc­cus (GBS) in­fec­tions at the VJH – said to be the cause of the deaths – and re­port on the find­ings.

The com­mit­tee com­prised

... an in­crease in the num­ber of ba­bies di­ag­nosed with GBS and a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in those dy­ing from it.

Per­ma­nent Sec­re­tary in the Min­istry of Health (MOH) Elaine Fos­ter Allen; Phillip Arm­strong, chair­man of the South East Re­gional Health Author­ity (SERHA); Mau­reen Gold­ing, re­gional di­rec­tor, SERHA; Chief Med­i­cal Of­fi­cer in the MOH Dr Win­ston De La Haye; and Dr Orville Mor­gan, con­sul­tant ob­ste­tri­cian/gy­nae­col­o­gist and se­nior med­i­cal of­fi­cer at VJH.

The Sun­day Gleaner was told that the VJH was re­quested to pre­pare a re­port on the in­ci­dent, which was, in fact, made avail­able to the com­mit­tee be­fore they pre­pared the of­fi­cial re­port that was re­leased at the press con­fer­ence on Oc­to­ber 13.

How­ever, con­trary to the VJH re­port, which out­lined an in­crease in the num­ber of ba­bies di­ag­nosed with GBS and a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in those dy­ing from it – iden­ti­fy­ing 26 deaths in two months alone – the of­fi­cial re­port re­leased by the com­mit­tee only spoke of eight ba­bies be­ing in­fected, four of whom it said died.


In the VJH re­port, a copy of which was ob­tained by The Sun­day Gleaner, it said, in­ter alia, that “ten of the ba­bies died in Au­gust”, with 60 per cent oc­cur­ring in in­fants de­scribed as hav­ing “very low birth rate”, and of the “16 deaths in Septem­ber up to the time the re­port was sub­mit­ted, 60 per cent were in­fants weigh­ing an av­er­age 2.5kg (5.51lb) – sus­pected sep­sis cases”.

It also said GBS – a bac­te­rial in­fec­tion found in the preg­nant wo­man’s vagina or rec­tum – was the cul­prit which led to sep­sis, sep­tic shock and death.

At the press con­fer­ence held at the health min­istry’s New Kingston of­fice, jour­nal­ists were also told that GBS could not be trans­ferred from in­di­vid­ual to in­di­vid­ual, and the mothers were iden­ti­fied as the pri­mary trans­porters of the mi­crobe to their new­borns.

In the VJH re­port, it ac­knowl­edged that it did not know the GBS sta­tus of the mothers, es­pe­cially those who “went into pre­ma­ture labour” and those with any re­cent his­tory of “vag­i­nal dis­charge or uri­nary tract in­fec­tion at least four weeks be­fore de­liv­ery ...”. How­ever, it did say that “the mothers were the pri­mary source, with the de­liv­ery ward be­ing a dis­tant sec­ond op­tion”.

The VJH re­port also said the mi­crobe can sur­vive out­side the body for up to seven days. De­spite this no­ta­tion, how­ever, it said the hospi­tal en­vi­ron­ment was ruled out as the pos­si­ble “cul­prit”.

Ad­di­tion­ally, con­trary to the de­nial by VJH of­fi­cials that the labour ward was shut down for a ter­mi­nal sweep, the re­port said the hospi­tal acted on the rec­om­men­da­tion and car­ried out such.

The VJH re­port de­tailed sev­eral is­sues and made a num­ber of rec­om­men­da­tions. The com­mit­tee did, in fact, ac­cede to some of those rec­om­men­da­tions. Among them was the swab­bing of preg­nant women for de­liv­ery at the hospi­tal.

The Sun­day Gleaner was told that the VJH re­port came on the heels of a nox­ious re­port that was done by the Kingston and St An­drew Health Depart­ment, which raised con­cerns about the num­ber and fre­quency of deaths oc­cur­ring at the premier child-de­liv­ery fa­cil­ity in the Caribbean re­gion.

In early Oc­to­ber, hospi­tal of­fi­cials ini­tially de­nied the deaths when a Gleaner re­porter first raised the is­sue dur­ing an in­ter­view at the Kingston Pub­lic Hospi­tal (KPH). How­ever, in­sis­tence on the part of Sun­day Gleaner sources and other hospi­tal of­fi­cials forced a sec­ond look into the mat­ter, at which time there was con­fir­ma­tion.

On Wed­nes­day, Tufton is sched­uled to an­swer ques­tions on the is­sue in Par­lia­ment that were tabled by Op­po­si­tion Spokesman on Health Ho­race Dal­ley.


In the mean­time, shortly af­ter the ba­bies’ deaths were made pub­lic, at least one or­gan­i­sa­tion had called for in­de­pen­dent health ex­perts to re­view the sit­u­a­tion.

In a state­ment, the Women’s Health Net­work (WHN) ex­pressed dis­ap­point­ment that the com­mit­tee estab­lished by the health min­istry was bereft of in­di­vid­u­als with the re­quired tech­ni­cal skills for the find­ings to be deemed cred­i­ble.

“Although we wel­come the de­ci­sion to in­ves­ti­gate, we are taken aback that the honourable min­is­ter has con­vened a com­mit­tee with­out the tech­ni­cal skill set to in­ves­ti­gate a hospi­tal in­fec­tion out­break, as do­ing so will not in­spire pub­lic con­fi­dence in its find­ings or rec­om­men­da­tion,” said WHN in the state­ment.

“While we recog­nise that the mem­bers of the com­mit­tee are em­i­nently qual­i­fied in their var­i­ous fields of tech­ni­cal vo­ca­tion, to use them in this man­ner, in our view, amounts to mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion of ex­per­tise.”

In a state­ment to The Sun­day Gleaner yes­ter­day, SERHA’s chair­man Arm­strong said, “At the Oc­to­ber 13th press con­fer­ence, we re­ported specif­i­cally on the ba­bies that had died from Group B Strep­to­coc­cus (GBS). In 2016, eight ba­bies were born with GBS, all of which were treated with an­tibi­otics. Un­for­tu­nately, four of those ba­bies died in Septem­ber.”

He also noted that “40 ba­bies have died at VJH for the pe­riod July-Septem­ber, in­clu­sive of the afore­men­tioned four from Strep B. The ma­jor­ity of the other ba­bies were pre­ma­ture and weighed less than 2kg at birth. They were born with low Ap­gar scores, and the cause of death was deemed to be mostly from res­pi­ra­tory and car­diac re­lated is­sues. All deaths are viewed with equal im­por­tance, and our teams do ev­ery­thing they can to pre­vent them.”

Although we wel­come the de­ci­sion to in­ves­ti­gate, we are taken aback that the honourable min­is­ter has con­vened a com­mit­tee with­out the tech­ni­cal skill set to in­ves­ti­gate a hospi­tal in­fec­tion out­break.

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