Pub­lic gives health min­istry thumbs up in com­mu­ni­ca­tion

Jamaica Gleaner - - NEWS - Jo­van Johnson Staff Reporter jo­van.johnson@glean­erjm.com

There’s a recog­ni­tion that trans­parency pro­motes bet­ter gov­er­nance, greater lev­els of ac­count­abil­ity and, frankly speak­ing, we, start­ing with me all the way down to the least of them all within an in­sti­tu­tion, are all ac­count­able to the peo­ple ... .

AP­PROX­I­MATELY HALF of adult Ja­maicans be­lieve that cur­rent health min­is­ter, Dr Christo­pher Tufton, has main­tained an above-av­er­age com­mu­ni­ca­tion strat­egy in keep­ing the pub­lic abreast of hap­pen­ings in the health sec­tor.

This was re­vealed in a re­cently con­ducted Glean­er­com­mis­sioned sur­vey of health care in Ja­maica, con­ducted by Johnson Sur­vey Re­search Ltd.

The find­ings are likely to buoy the health min­is­ter, who has been at the fore­front of pub­lic-in­for­ma­tion ini­tia­tives on is­sues such as the Zika virus (ZIKV) since his Ja­maica Labour Party (JLP) formed the gov­ern­ment in Fe­bru­ary.

In fact, even Ho­race Dal­ley, the health min­is­ter in the last days of the for­mer Peo­ple’s National Party (PNP) gov­ern­ment, ac­knowl­edged that the health min­istry has a “good” pub­lic re­la­tions pro­gramme, but with a pro­viso: that there is in­suf­fi­cient at­ten­tion to qual­ity in­for­ma­tion.

“We didn’t spend a lot of money on PR and ad­ver­tis­ing and so on,” Dal­ley told The Sun­day Gleaner. “I can only speak for Novem­ber 2015 to Fe­bru­ary 2016 [when he was in charge of the port­fo­lio]. I know we passed on in­for­ma­tion to the pub­lic about the health sys­tem and about the chal­lenges we were hav­ing. I wasn’t afraid to tell the coun­try the truth.” Polling 1,200 men and women be­tween ages 18 and 65 and over dur­ing the month of Septem­ber, the study sought to gauge Ja­maicans’ view of the health-care sys­tem and the im­prove­ments needed.

48 PER CENT AP­PROVAL

In the sur­vey, 30 per cent rated the Gov­ern­ment’s per­for­mance as “good” in in­form­ing peo­ple about de­vel­op­ments in the health sec­tor, while 13 per cent rated it “very good” and five per cent “ex­cel­lent” – a to­tal of 48 per cent be­tween good and ex­cel­lent.

Twenty-one per cent said the per­for­mance was “only fair” and 12 per cent said it was “poor”. Nine­teen per cent of the re­spon­dents couldn’t rate the per­for­mance.

There was no sim­i­lar sur­vey un­der the PNP gov­ern­ment when its health min­is­ter, Dr Fen­ton Fer­gu­son, was un­der pres­sure for his man­age­ment of the chikun­gunya virus (chik-V) out­break, plus the over­all state of the health sec­tor, which doc­tors and other health-care pro­fes­sion­als crit­i­cised for be­ing un­der-re­sourced and mis­man­aged.

Fer­gu­son was ul­ti­mately un­done by a con­tro­versy sur­round­ing the deaths of 19 preterm

ba­bies from bac­te­rial in­fec­tions at two of the is­land’s ma­jor hos­pi­tals, which was com­pounded by his mis­s­peak­ing in Par­lia­ment when, in at­tempt­ing to ex­plain the un­der­de­vel­oped state of pre­ma­ture ba­bies, he de­scribed them as “not ba­bies in the real sense”.

Dur­ing his ten­ure, he was con­stantly ac­cused of not be­ing trans­par­ent and crit­i­cised for the lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion from his min­istry, espe­cially when he re­fused to re­lease the long-awaited and much-an­tic­i­pated au­dit re­port of the four re­gional health au­thor­i­ties, which af­ter loud pub­lic out­cry was fi­nally re­leased.

With pres­sure mount­ing from sev­eral quar­ters, Fer­gu­son was even­tu­ally re­lieved of his health

min­is­ter du­ties, re­placed by Dal­ley, and re­as­signed to an­other min­istry. The con­tro­ver­sies in the health sec­tor are be­lieved to have con­trib­uted to the PNP’s nar­row elec­toral de­feat, al­though Fer­gu­son re­tained his East­ern St Thomas par­lia­men­tary seat with a wider mar­gin.

AS­SESS­MENT ‘HARDLY POS­I­TIVE’

In the con­text of what tran­spired, com­mu­ni­ca­tion strat­egy con­sul­tant, Dr Hume Johnson, de­scribed the up­beat as­sess­ment of the new ad­min­is­tra­tion’s com­mu­ni­ca­tion per­for­mance as “hardly pos­i­tive”.

“This sit­u­a­tion does not beg for a re­peat, so it is ex­pected that a new min­is­ter of health, un­der a new ad­min­is­tra­tion, would be wise to en­sure that ad­e­quate com­mu­ni­ca­tion to the na­tion about pub­lic health in gen­eral, and po­ten­tial pub­lic health crises in par­tic­u­lar, is ef­fected,” noted Johnson, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of pub­lic re­la­tions at Roger Wil­liams Univer­sity in the United States.

Added Johnson: “What we are wit­ness­ing now – and it is nowhere near the level it ought to be – is an im­prove­ment in the dis­sem­i­na­tion of health mes­sages through pub­lic-ed­u­ca­tion cam­paigns that seek to cre­ate a new so­cial cli­mate in Ja­maica to en­cour­age healthy be­hav­iours, change at­ti­tudes, in­clud­ing how the en­vi­ron­ment is kept, and mo­ti­vate Ja­maicans to adopt rec­om­mended be­hav­iours to pre­vent pub­lic-health out­breaks.”

Tufton, who has been at­tempt­ing to make him­self the face of a healthy-lifestyle cam­paign to com­bat non-com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases such as di­a­betes and hy­per­ten­sion, said that part of his man­date was to be open and trans­par­ent and to make the Gov­ern­ment ac­count­able.

Stated Tufton: “There’s a recog­ni­tion that trans­parency pro­motes bet­ter gov­er­nance, greater lev­els of ac­count­abil­ity and, frankly speak­ing, we, start­ing with me all the way down to the least of them all within an in­sti­tu­tion, are all ac­count­able to the peo­ple that we serve. And it should not be looked at in any other way. Part of that ac­count­abil­ity must be pre­pared­ness and a will­ing­ness to com­mu­ni­cate with the pub­lic.”

For­mer Health Min­is­ter Dr Fen­ton Fer­gu­son Health Min­is­ter Dr Christo­pher Tufton

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