False narratives and faulty comparisons

Dr. Christopher Tufton

Gleaner – October 31, 2022

The loss of lives at the Victoria Jubilee Hospital (VJH) is both sad and unfortunate. They must never be downplayed or trivialised, but above all, no one should exploit these deaths for political gain. There was no intent to withhold information from the public, and to the extent that there are Jamaicans who perceive such, I regret that. The primary concern at the time was solving the problem – ensuring no more loss of lives, while balancing the risk of causing panic and hysteria in the context where the situation now seemed under control.

On October 26, a media house ‘broke’ the story of deaths at VJH; however, instead of seeking clarification or even the truth, they sought to sensationalise the story. They claimed that there were dozens of fatalities and outbreaks in other hospitals, and that the Minister of Health and Wellness (MOHW) was attempting to hide information from the public.

I understand the value that media houses gain by ‘breaking’ news. Still, they should do this with professional integrity after exploring all reasonable avenues for accuracy and clarification. Otherwise, they become part of the problem and, more times than not, create a bigger problem that affects lives, credibility and professional integrity.


As Minister of Health and Wellness, I have learnt a lot of lessons along the way; however, one of the biggest lessons I have learnt is to be accessible, be forthright, and never politicise health. Regardless of their background, all individuals should have access to proper healthcare.

When I learnt of the outbreak, I immediately did what any responsible person would have done; I called on the experts to ensure that the problem would be addressed and corrected.

As I know that there are many narratives out there, some of which are mere attempts to undermine and politicise an unfortunate and unavoidable event, I have found it necessary to put the facts on record to provide clarity. While the Opposition may see this as an opportunity to gain political mileage or to compare it to a former event where the value of unborn lives was discounted, the facts belie their accusations, as it is clear that the MOHW did everything it could to prevent further loss of life.

1. In July 2022, the South East Regional Health Authority discovered a bacterial infection at the Victoria Jubilee Hospital after seven confirmed deaths. Immediately, the team assessed and began to enhance infection and prevention control.

2. In August, the reported cases were reduced to two deaths. This decline indicated that the infection- and prevention-control measures were working.

3. Towards the end of August, the Ministry of Health and Wellness team briefed me on the situation at the Victoria Jubilee Hospital. This was the first time the team brought the problem of a bacterial infection at VJH to my attention. Even though there was a decline and the situation appeared to be under control, I instructed the Pan American Health Organization to be called in to provide an additional assessment.

4. In September, the reports indicated two more deaths; in October, no deaths were reported.

With this swift and decisive leadership from both the regional and ministerial levels, we managed the problem, ensuring no more loss of lives, because every life matters. Concerns have been raised about why Cabinet or the prime minister was not informed. In hindsight, I should have briefed the prime minister earlier. Again, I felt that the situation was under control and decided to await feedback from the Pan American Health Organisation to advise the Cabinet officially.


Managing public health in Jamaica is a challenging task. The neglect we have seen over the years, the underinvestment, the system that allows for free healthcare without distinguishing those who can pay from those who cannot, and the massive staff migration have made the task of providing proper healthcare very difficult. Still, this current administration is committed to achieving that goal.

We are doing our best to allocate resources to the most critical areas; however, until more funds are available to us as a country and we establish universal access to healthcare based on increased allocations and ability to pay, we will continue to have challenges.

Under this Government, we embarked on the most ambitious capital expenditure initiative in public health since Independence, seven years ago. Over US$250 million has been invested. We now have architectural designs to upgrade and completely revolutionise Spanish Town Hospital, the UHWI, St Ann’s Bay Hospital, and May Pen Hospital. We are also increasing our technological capacity by digitising our information systems to create telemedicine platforms for better and remote treatment. We are placing modern diagnostic equipment in our hospitals and health centres. Chronic staff shortage continues to be a significant challenge, and this will only be fixed with greater collaboration around training. In the last five years, we have seen over 2,400 nurses leaving the public health system, primarily due to migration, with no commensurate levels of replacement training. The situation is particularly chronic in areas of specialist nurses due to high overseas demand and limited capacity for training. To address this, we recently signed two MOUs with health systems in the United States to establish this type of collaboration under the recently announced Code Care Initiative.

We are partnering with the private sector to provide services in areas we lack. We are correcting past wrongs and doing it with compassion. But there is so much more to do.

I know the system is not perfect, and we have challenges. As minister of health and wellness, being exposed to the realities, I hurt each day knowing that Jamaicans must wait months, or years, for surgeries; or see their loved ones suffer for lack of attention and inadequate resources. I assure the people of Jamaica that we are dedicated to improving the public health system and correcting the mistakes of the past.

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