(L-R) JOHNSON SMITH…more schools should have been closed. MALAHOO FORTE…it is spreading like wildfire
THE Opposition is accusing the Government of dragging its feet in dealing with the outbreak of the hand foot and mouth disease which has spread to more than 50 schools within days, due to its high rate of infection.
Opposition spokesperson on health Senator Marlene Malahoo Forte said yesterday that because the disease, which mainly affects children, spreads so quickly it poses a real threat of crippling the health and education sectors, in the same manner that the Chikungunya virus did last year.
“It is spreading like wildfire…while we take some comfort in the fact that this hand foot and mouth disease is mild, we are extremely concerned that it is a highly contagious disease for which there is no vaccine or treatment…I think that before long, this disease will be right across the island,” Malahoo Forte said during a press conference at the Jamaica Labour Party’s Belmont Road headquarters.
The health ministry, she said, is displaying the same lack of urgency that it did leading up to the Chikungunya outbreak, which forced schools to close and sent a ripple effect across various sectors as hundreds of Jamaicans were unable to work due to its debilitating effects.
She also blamed the ongoing chronic water shortage across the island on the quick spread of the virus.
“At the top of the list of steps to protect yourself and your children from getting this disease, we are told that you must wash your hands often with soap and water especially after using the bathroom and changing diapers, but we have been having a serious water, problem and the shortage have caused the risk of infectious diseases to increase,” she said.
According to Malahoo Forte, the Government is absorbed in a tunnel vision of satisfying International Monetary Fund (IMF) quantitative targets to the detriment of other sectors from which resources are diverted to meet these targets.
“What is happening with the spread of this disease is another example of the failures that we are seeing with the Government of the day. We have a failing Ministry of Water, a non-performing minister of water, a failing Ministry of Health, (and) we have failures in local government,” she remarked.
The Opposition senator demanded to know what steps the health ministry has taken to determine the increased risks to infectious diseases due to the water shortage, arguing that public health departments must be mandated to carry out internal capacity assessments. “It just cannot be the business-as-usual approach that we have seen from the minister. You cannot wait until it gets so bad to determine the work that is to be done. Our information is that there are a number of other diseases that are threatening an outbreak,” she said.
The Jamaica Observer understands that the only two schools that have been closed so far are to be reopened on Monday, and the affected students will remain at home.
But Opposition Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, spokesperson on education, said more schools should have been closed. “We do not take any comfort from the statement by the chief medical officer that they understand how to control the disease, nor do we believe that the correct action has been taken by the Ministry of Education in relation to this matter. We feel strongly that after the first two schools which experienced an outbreak had closed, if the ministry had mandated that as a continued process, that the outbreak would have been halted,” she argued.
Up to Wednesday, the South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA) said the disease has been confirmed in 53 schools – 11 in Kingston and St Andrew; 18 in St Thomas and 24 in St Catherine. SERHA also said four more schools are being investigated in Kingston and St Andrew as well as nine others in St Catherine.
According to the United States’ Centres for Disease Control, hand foot and mouth disease is a common viral illness that usually affects infants and children younger than five years old, but can occur in adults. Symptoms include a fever, reduced appetite, sore throat, and a feeling of being ill. Sores can develop in the mouth as well as a rash on the palms, soles of the feet, knees, elbows, or genital area, and it is most contagious in the first week of illness.
Published By: The Observer
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