The Ministry of Public Health’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic is raising concerns. By now, it should be clear that the Ministry’s response has been far from effective. Unless corrective action is taken, there is going to be a serious loss of public confidence in the capacity of the Health Ministry to manage the medical aspects of this pandemic. Already some persons are questioning the authenticity of the number of confirmed cases.
The public should not question those numbers. The persons who are undertaking the tests for the COVID-19 pandemic know what they are doing and while human error is possible and tests can produce false results at times, these persons are going to do their jobs professionally.
When the Ministry announces that there are 137 confirmed cases in Guyana, this number should not be dismissed. The greater concern should be how many more confirmed cases have not yet been detected.
The Ministry has not indicated whether any samples which have tested positive have been sent to a Reference laboratory for secondary confirmation. A small set of such results should be sent as a means of assessing the accuracy of local testing. But the Ministry has been silent on whether this is happening.
The government’s strategy to repress the spread of the virus has been a failure. The partial lockdown has not worked and was never likely to work because you cannot expect any major impact by the curfew at that time when 80% of the population are indoors anyway.
After more than six weeks, the number of confirmed cases continues to increase. Interestingly, the doubling rate of confirmed cases is not as rapid as in some other countries. But given the high death rate, relative to confirmed cases, each additional confirmed case should be cause for worry.
In the United Kingdom, almost half of the deaths were at one time attributable to care homes. Care homes are among the most vulnerable and the greatest precaution has to be taken to insulate these homes from the virus.
The Palms is a care home. The first case at that institution happened to be an elderly man who died on 5th May, three weeks ago. Given that the inmates of the Palms all sleep in open wards, it was to be expected that every single inmate at that institution should have been tested immediately. It is not clear whether this was done but it is shocking to now learn that six persons from the female ward of that institution have now tested positive.
This raises concerns as to whether everyone was tested just after 5th May 2020. If not, then the Ministry of Public Health needs to explain why this was not done. It should be recalled that mobile centers were established at different locations across the country during this period and it would be inexcusable if the persons at the Palms were bypassed for testing while these mobile units were being established.
Concerns have been expressed about the conditions at the Diamond Diagnostic Centre where COVID-19 cases are subject to mandatory institutional isolation. Complaints have been raised about poor food and the intermingling of positive cases with persons who have had a first negative test. Some of the patients have also alleged that they are not being given any medication to boost their immunity. Rather they say that their ‘vitals’ are being checked.
As more and more persons test positive, the limited isolation facilities are going to be overcrowded and the situation will get dire. The President needs to launch an independent investigation into the conditions at that location so that the truth about the allegations and the quality of care being provided can be verified.
The government will be under pressure to ease social restrictions. Thousands of workers have not been able to earn an income for almost two months now. But it would not be wise for the government to ease the lockdown if the number of confirmed cases continue to rise and if there remains serious concerns about the Ministry of Public Health’s response to this pandemic.
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