The Ministry of Public Health appears to have psychic powers. How else does one explain that a top official of the Ministry could have said that the Ministry had begun to prepare for the coronavirus threat since December?
This is impossible. The Ministry of Public Health, presently entangled in procurement controversies for its orders for ventilators and HIV test kits, could not have begun to prepare for the coronavirus threat since December.
It was only on December 31st 2019, that China informed the World Health Organization (WHO) of an unusual type of pneumonia in one of its provinces. At that time, the virus causing the illness was not yet known. It was not until one week later, on January 7th 2020, that the novel virus was identified.
Even then the full symptoms and complications were not yet fully known. China’s first COVID-19 death did not occur until 11th January 2020. One week later a second death took place. As at January 22nd there were still only 17 deaths and 550 cases. It was then that one day later, on the 23rd January 2020 that Wuhan, then the epicentre of the spread, was placed on a lockdown.
At that stage the WHO did not consider the outbreak as a public health emergency. And it was not until February 2nd that the first coronavirus death occurred outside of China, in the Philippines.
It is therefore impossible for Guyana’s Ministry of Public Health to have predicted in December that it would have needed ventilators to fight the pandemic. The credibility of the statement attributed to the senior official of the Ministry that, “The Ministry took the initiative since then [December] to start planning” for the virus has to be questioned. Or it has to be viewed as an April Fools’ Day prank.
This is no time, however, to be fooling around. The present crisis is not going to be helped by some of what is emanating from the Ministry in recent weeks.
Another top official recently alluded to what she believed was the foresight of the framers of the Constitution in predicting a pandemic by subjecting personal liberty to restraints in the interest of health. There was no need for the framers to have any foresight about pandemics. It has been a timeless feature of Commonwealth Constitutions to place limitations on personal freedoms in the interest of public health, public order and public morals.
The daily COVID-19 briefings, by the Ministry of Public Health, have been extremely guarded. This is creating greater uncertainty. Despite having an ethical obligation to protect patient confidentiality, the Ministry can reveal much more in its daily briefings.
It should not view the media as hounding some families. The media can be an important ally in the fight against the coronavirus. The media is not there to hound anyone. It was the media which unearthed certain valuable information which led to better contact tracing after the death of Patient Zero.
The Ministry’s leadership during the present public health crisis leaves much to be desired. Months ago, the Ministry said it was prepared, but time has proven that it was not prepared.
The Ministry, using a model reportedly developed by PAHO/WHO, is predicting 1400 cases in Guyana. Does the Ministry understand what this means in terms of critical cases and severe cases. Given the deficiencies of the health system, including the limited number of ventilators, this can mean at least 70 deaths (5% of all cases).
Is this what the Ministry is prepared to accept, and if so, has it used the powers which has been given to it, under the Public Health Ordinance, to order a lockdown of the country so as to reduce this number?
The Ministry needs to get its act together. The conundrum over the procurement of the ventilators and the sparse details being provided in its daily briefings are not going to inspire public confidence in its ability to protect the nation from this highly contagious virus.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
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