A shocking revelation indeed it was –– by Jamaica’s Ministry of Health itself in the last 72 hours –– that since June, 18 babies of 42 in intensive care had died from health care-associated infections at the Cornwall Regional Hospital in Montego Bay and the University Hospital of the West Indies in Kingston.
And the confession would come –– painfully but gladly –– just days after ubiquitous reports of an infection outbreak in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of the University Hospital of the West Indies. Sadly, Minister of Health Dr Fenton Ferguson and his team would come over as “defensive” at a Press conference at Jamaica House, where journalists were leisurely told these outbreaks happen from time to time.
Such casualness is indeed unbecoming of the response expected to a situation where as of August some 13 babies had been infected with klebsiella –– the bacterium that causes respiratory, urinary, and wound infections –– at the University Hospital of the West Indies, seven of which infants died. And we learnt also that between June and September, eight babies had been infected with another strain of health care-associated infections –– serratia –– at the said facility, resulting in one death.
Meanwhile, at the Cornwall Regional Hospital, we were informed, 14 babies had been infected since last month, resulting in six deaths. Added to that, there had been seven cases of klebsiella among newborns there between June and July, and four of those infected babies died.
No comfort to the families of the infected, and equally no contentment to the rest of us, Jamaica’s Ministry of Health is yet to identify the source, or sources, of the pathogen causing the current outbreak.
Truth be told, we like to lie at ease in the belief that hospitals are sterile safety zones in the battle against diseases, but several sources of information would have us know hospitals can indeed be ground zero for the invasion of all kinds of bacteria. They argue that too many hospitals are allowing superbugs to join forces and conspire against patients.
According to the United States Centres For Disease Control And Prevention, an estimated 648,000 Americans develop infections during hospital stay annually, and about 75,000 of them die as a result. That, the US Centres For Disease Control And Prevention says, is more than twice the number of Americans who die each year in car crashes.
Some of us will be tempted to cling to the notion that these cases of infections are not near home, and we as Barbadians need not worry unduly. But just a matter of days ago –– as we ironically mark Infection Control Week –– we were reminded by organizer of the said week’s three-day conference, consultant Dr Corey Forde, that such infectious diseases were only “a LIAT plane away”. We aver that they are “any airline jet away”. It can take less than a workday to fly to Barbados from the United States.
Even more ironically, at the conference which began on Monday, speakers and facilitators too were drawn from the US Centres For Disease Control And Prevention, among other international health institutions.
Dr Forde made it a point to let the world know that our Ministry of Health, along with the Queen Elizabeth Hospital which had its own issues with the bacterium klebsiella some three years ago, recognized the importance of infection protection and control (IPC) practices for Barbados, and had made significant strides in IPC sustainability.
As the QEH consultant on infectious diseases stated, our hospital continues to treat people from across the Caribbean region, and added to the protection that Barbadian patients themselves expect to be guaranteed, our national protection and resistance patterns must be exemplary.
We may add that with people generally being made more aware of hospital infection risks, they too can take steps to help protect the ailing, themselves and their families. They themselves will team up too with the health authorities, doctors and medical staff in helping to prevent infections.
We all must, lest we run the risk of eroding all the gains made over the past decades by a commendable and oft-times admired national health service, which now faces the new development of many more older patients needing greater intensive care in an ageing society.
And while we ponder over care, we might also rethink our love for fellow man, in particular our elderly. Our suffering ones will surely need more than infectious diseases-free spaces and health insurance cover. We should express our considerateness too from our hearts, as God Almighty does to us all who would listen.
The coinage by evangelist and Methodism founder John Wesley that “cleanliness is next to godliness” hardly came by chance.