Daily Archives: December 23, 2011

Leptospirosis crisis shows long term negligence by Barbados Government

In face of a record outbreak Health Minister Inniss admits Ministry inaction, negligence

“The Government of Barbados gave notice this morning that it will be prosecuting owners of Bridgetown businesses, home owners and individuals who persisted in flouting the Health Services Act.

Health Minister Donville Inniss laid down the gauntlet at a Press Conference at his Culloden Road office to deal with a record number of leptospirosis cases which had resulted in three deaths this year.

Inniss fingered “the big ups” whom he said owed the ministry money for cleaning up their unkempt properties and could afford to pay, but wouldn’t.

He said while Government should not have to use “heavy-handed” methods to get Barbadians to keep their surroundings clean and tidy, he had asked his officers to step up surveillance and start lodging cases in the law courts.”

… from the Barbados Today article Foot Down

by Nevermind Kurt

 Listening to Minister Inniss one would have to think that he and his staff just heard about the annual statistics showing a massive increase in leptospirosis cases during the past year. Indeed, the “Woaloss, what a surprise! We gots to do something about this!” feeling that ran through the press conference was surreal.

Why doesn’t the government already monitor this deadly disease on a weekly basis? Shouldn’t the trend have been noticed six months ago? Shouldn’t there already have been prosecutions, inspections and forced clean-ups happening for the last three years?

The latest press conference by Donville Inniss has all the usual hallmarks of the laissez-faire system of non-leadership that characterizes both DLP and BLP governments.

Think about past leptospirosis outbreaks and you’ll see that the story always follows this pattern:

  1. The long-term failure of government to counter leptospirosis is once again highlighted through the release of an annual statistical report, or a death.
  2. The newspaper stories note that many publicly-owned lands and derelict buildings contribute to the problem by offering homes for rats and other lepto carriers.
  3. Government Ministers call a press conference where they vow to “lay down the law” against businesses and land owners who fail to keep their properties clean, clear and free of carrier habitats. Government pledges to do its part about public properties. Government promises new and revised laws where current legislation is inadequate.
  4. After a month or two of action, the outbreak dies down. Monies that were pledged to the long-term control vanish from the budgets because the problem has gone away. With the crisis past, the preventative measures fall off the priority chart as some other flavour of the day takes over.
  5. A steady and slow increase begins again, until it reaches the tipping point when leptospirosis cases go exponential. When this happens, go back to Step 1 and start again.

This has been the pattern of response to leptospirosis outbreaks for the last 20 years.

Why must every new leptospirosis outbreak be a surprise? Why are Barbados governments incapable of implementing and carrying through with long-term plans about issues that are foundational to the health and safety of citizens?

The same thing happens with mass vehicle deaths and drinking and driving. The government responds with plans, promises of breathalyzer legislation, increased enforcement and the start of action… but six months later its all back to the way it was.

The Health Minister’s latest press conference was nothing more or less than an admission of gross neglect about leptospirosis since the last outbreak.

Remember this: three months from now nothing will have changed, and a year from now when the 2012 leptospirosis statistics are released we’ll see the same speech by the next Health Minister.

Not much changes ’round this place.

Further Reading

Barbados Advocate: Health warning

The Nation: Lepto Leap

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