Monday, December 18, 2017

Lepto crisis is real and urgent

HEALTH Minister Terrence Deyalsingh did the public a disservice on Friday when he chose to hide behind statistics in responding to a question from the Opposition about the rising incidence of Leptospirosis.

According to the minister's own figures, not since 2010 has Trinidad and Tobago experienced so many cases of the deadly rat-borne disease.

Since a high of 68 cases in 2010, the number of people infected has been in steady decline until recent weeks.

Last year, there were 32 confirmed cases. By contrast, the number of suspected cases recorded for 2017 was already at 58, almost double last year's figure. While he did not specify, it would appear that a large number of these cases, if not the majority, followed the flooding which occurred less than a month ago.

While scientific testing is yet to confirm the suspected diagnosis, the cases are all being treated as flood-related Leptospirosis.

This is not a matter to gloss over or to get lost in political blaming.

Minister Deyalsingh seems to believe that his Ministry has done a lot in alerting the public to the problem.

However, the evidence of 58 suspected cases suggests otherwise.

The public needs much more precise information if it is to protect itself from the risk of contracting the disease.

Using data gathered from the suspected cases, the authorities should by now have gleaned some specific information on how the disease has moved from rats to humans on such a scale and over such a short period of time.

Data based on actual cases is critical for shaping a more precise response and better targeted public messaging.

When as many as 58 people can be suspected of infection, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Local Government and the Government as a whole must face the fact that they have all failed to respond a problem that was telegraphed well in advance when the first floods hit the country.

Certain areas should have been closed to the public until they were sprayed and treated; crops from affected areas should have been dumped and not allowed into the market; health and local government inspectors should have been deployed into the field in full force, and the country's monitoring and testing capacity should have been put on full throttle.

The dramatic upsurge in suspected cases is the evidence of the uselessness of a public education campaign based on generalities such as advising the public to keep their surroundings clean, avoid contact with animal urine, wear protective clothing in contaminated areas, drink clean water, and be on the alert for contaminated food.

How, for example, are consumers to know if food offered for sale has been contaminated or if water making its way into areas unaffected by the flooding is disease-free or not?

Instead of indulging in defensive debate with the Opposition, Minister Deyalsingh needs to admit that he has a crisis on his hands, commandeer the required resources, and lead a campaign against this deadly disease with the objective of ensuring that not another person falls victim to this scourge.