Health min­istry stands firm on ba­bies deaths from GBS

112 neona­tal deaths at Vic­to­ria Ju­bilee up to Septem­ber

Jamaica Gleaner - - NEWS - Erica Virtue Se­nior Gleaner Writer erica.virtue@glean­erjm.com

THE MIN­ISTRY of Health said al­though there were 112 neona­tal deaths at the Vic­to­ria Ju­bilee Hos­pi­tal (VJH) be­tween Jan­uary and Septem­ber of this year, it is sat­is­fied that based on in­ves­ti­ga­tion, only four of those died from Group B Strep­to­coc­cal (GBS) in­fec­tion.

Phillip Arm­strong, chair­man of the South East Re­gional Health Au­thor­ity (SERHA), told The Sun­day Gleaner that while all the deaths were re­gret­table, the to­tal num­ber of in­fant mor­tal­ity since the start of the year was not alarm­ing, as it was within nor­mal in­ter­na­tional rate. He added that he was also sat­is­fied that, based on an in-depth in­ves­ti­ga­tion, no more new­borns had died from GBS than the four that were pre­vi­ously re­ported by the min­istry.

The con­tro­versy sur­round­ing the ex­act num­ber of neonates who had died at VJH had been an on­go­ing is­sue since The Sun­day Gleaner first broke the story on Oc­to­ber 9. Fol­low­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, a press con­fer­ence was held where an of­fi­cial re­port was re­leased by the health min­istry stat­ing that only four ba­bies had died since the start of the year from GBS.

Sub­se­quently, how­ever, an anony­mous source sent a re­port pre­pared by a VJH of­fi­cial to The Sun­day Gleaner, which con­tra­dicted the min­istry’s of­fi­cial re­port. The news­pa­per’s story head­lined ‘Some­body lied, 26 ba­bies died’ on Oc­to­ber 30 fur­ther added to the con­tro­versy, and forced the min­istry to in­ves­ti­gate deeper. The story stated that 26 ba­bies had died at the in­sti­tu­tion be­tween Au­gust and Septem­ber, af­ter con­tract­ing GBS in­fec­tion from their moth­ers dur­ing vagi­nal de­liv­ery, which was out­lined in the re­port we had re­ceived.

CLAR­I­FY­ING THE IS­SUE

Fol­low­ing that, the health min­istry of­fered a num­ber of ex­pla­na­tions on the mat­ter, ad­mit­ting that 29 ba­bies had in fact died dur­ing the afore­men­tioned two-month pe­riod, but the ma­jor­ity of those deaths were not caused by GBS in­fec­tions. The min­istry still main­tains that only four ba­bies died from GBS.

Arm­strong said fol­low­ing a meet­ing with the doc­tor who had pre­pared the VJH re­port that was the ba­sis of the Sun­day Gleaner story, an­other re­port was sub­mit­ted clar­i­fy­ing the is­sue.

Not­ing that the leaked re­port was only in­tended for in­ter­nal dis­cus­sion, Arm­strong said that the doc­tor stated, “The doc­u­ment en­ti­tled ‘Group B Strep­to­coc­cal dis­ease in the new­borns at the NCU, VJH for Septem­ber 2016 – Firm B’ was pre­pared by my­self in prepa­ra­tion for an emer­gency in­ter­nal se­nior staff meet­ing that was held on Septem­ber 28, 2016 in re­sponse to an out­break of GBS noted in Septem­ber 2016 at the Neona­tal Care Unit (NCU).

“The pages en­ti­tled ‘Cur­rent Is­sues’ and the sub­se­quent page dis­cussing ‘Med­i­cal Man­age­ment’ were my med­i­cal opin­ions that were for­mu­lated us­ing my pae­di­atric tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise in high­light­ing a par­a­digm shift in the un­der­ly­ing causes lead­ing to the deaths of in­fants in Au­gust and Septem­ber. It was my opin­ion at the time that the ma­jor­ity of in­fants that had died in Au­gust were very pre­ma­ture in­fants and that pre­ma­tu­rity and its com­pli­ca­tions were the rea­sons for their deaths, as op­posed to Septem­ber, where it was my opin­ion that the ma­jor­ity of ba­bies that died were larger, term in­fants who based on their clin­i­cal pre­sen­ta­tion to the NCU and their clin­i­cal progress were likely to have died in part from pre­sumed or sus­pected sep­sis cases. The num­bers quoted were the to­tal num­ber of neona­tal deaths per month and NOT deaths at­trib­uted to GBS alone.”

Fol­low­ing the doc­tor’s state­ment, the Min­istry of Health said it was now sat­is­fied with the out­come of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the mat­ter, and that it will con­tinue to strive to be trans­par­ent and ac­count­able to the pub­lic and all stake­hold­ers, in­clud­ing the me­dia.

“It is not a hid­den fact that the pub­lichealth sys­tem has many chal­lenges; how­ever, we hope that this is­sue, which has now been clar­i­fied, will re­store con­fi­dence in the pub­lic-health sys­tem, par­tic­u­larly the VJH. I want to once again reaf­firm the commitment of the Min­istry of Health to the im­prove­ment of the health sec­tor through trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity,” stated Health Min­is­ter Dr Christo­pher Tufton.

Phillip Arm­strong

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