Em­brace clar­ity on new baby deaths

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY -

MAYBE IT is that health-care pro­fes­sion­als, and those in the pub­lic bu­reau­cracy to whom they re­port, nei­ther speak nor write with clar­ity, or, in the face of per­ceived pub­lic or po­lit­i­cal pres­sure, are in­ca­pable of rec­on­cil­ing data and other in­for­ma­tion shared among them­selves.

That much was ob­vi­ous last year when the then health min­is­ter, Fenton Fer­gu­son, and his se­nior tech­nocrats, in their fail­ure at plain speak­ing and frank­ness, el­e­vated the chik-V and dead baby is­sues from dif­fi­cult pub­lic-health hic­cups into ma­jor scan­dals that cost Dr Fer­gu­son his job and con­trib­uted to the de­feat of the Peo­ple’s Na­tional Party (PNP) Gov­ern­ment.

The cur­rent lot at the health min­istry, led by the min­is­ter, Christo­pher Tufton, ap­pear headed to to­wards the Fer­gu­son syn­drome, in which event they should halt, take a deep breath, and be­gin a new con­ver­sa­tion with the pub­lic over the cur­rent con­tro­versy over the num­ber of ba­bies who have died at the Vic­to­ria Ju­bilee ma­ter­nity hos­pi­tal from com­pli­ca­tions re­lated to the Group B Strep­to­coc­cus (GBS). Ascrib­ing ir­re­spon­si­bil­ity to the press, par­tic­u­larly this news­pa­per, is not of it­self ex­cul­pa­tory of pub­lic of­fi­cials.

The ge­n­e­sis of this is­sue is our re­port, three weeks ago, of the deaths in Au­gust and Septem­ber of seven ba­bies at Vic­to­ria Ju­bilee from GB Strep­to­coc­cus, which elicited a re­view, by Dr Tufton, of the mat­ter, which, some of his of­fi­cials had al­ready at least par­tially con­firmed. Dr Tufton’s team of med­i­cal bu­reau­crats in­sisted that only four ba­bies died, and made clear that un­like when 17 ba­bies suc­cumbed to ser­ra­tia and kleb­siella bac­te­ria last year, they were vic­tims not of in­fec­tions con­tracted in the hos­pi­tal, but from their moth­ers.

That might have been the end of that, but for the sur­fac­ing of a re­port on the mat­ter, pro­duced by Vic­to­ria Ju­bilee of­fi­cials, whose lan­guage and data, by nor­mal use and in­ter­pre­ta­tion, ap­pear to place it at odds with the of­fi­cial state­ment by the health min­istry and upon which this news­pa­per re­ported.


Hav­ing out­lined the broad his­tory of a num­ber of pa­tients, it has this head­ing: ‘Cur­rent is­sues’. Then it goes on:

“1. In­crease in the num­ber of in­fants di­ag­nosed with GBS and a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in the num­ber of in­fants dy­ing of it.

a. 10 deaths in Au­gust – 605 oc­cur­ring in VLBW (very low birth­weight) in­fants.

b. 16 deaths thus far in Sept – 60% oc­cur­ring in in­fants 2.5kg!!! – sus­pected sep­sis cases ... HIE (hos­pi­tal in­fec­tions) is not the cul­prit this time!”

The re­port goes on to dis­cuss the lack of in­for­ma­tion on the mi­crobe pro­file of the de­liv­ery/op­er­at­ing suites and neona­tal care unit at Vic­to­ria Ju­bilee, as well as the un­known GBS sta­tus “of moth­ers de­liv­er­ing at VJH es­pe­cially”.

The fore­go­ing sug­gests that more than four ba­bies died from GBS at Vic­to­ria Ju­bilee in Au­gust and Septem­ber, rather than an over­all 29 neona­tal deaths at the in­sti­tu­tion dur­ing the pe­riod, as its se­nior med­i­cal of­fi­cer, Dr Orville Mor­gan, and Philip Armstrong, the chair­man of the South East Re­gional Health Au­thor­ity (SERHA), say in the case. The monthly num­bers in Dr Tufton’s re­port would be be­low the mean av­er­age for Au­gust and Septem­ber and the stan­dard de­vi­a­tion for the pre­vi­ous five years.

Dr Mor­gan and Mr Armstrong may well be right in their joint dec­la­ra­tion. But that is best proven by a clear, ra­tio­nal ex­pla­na­tion of the per­ceived dis­crep­an­cies in the two re­ports, not by at­tack­ing those who point them out.

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