Another newborn dies in bacterial outbreak in Jamaica; minister criticized for saying babies not “real”

fenton ferguson

Health Minister Dr. Fenton Ferguson came under fire yesterday.


KINGSTON, Jamaica, Wednesday October 28, 2015 – Health Minister Dr. Fenton Ferguson yesterday disclosed that another baby has died in the current outbreak of bacterial infections at two public hospitals, and also ruffled feathers when he suggested that the infants were not “real” babies.

The revelation and backlash came as Ferguson was grilled in Parliament over the outbreaks of Klebsiella and Serratia bacterial infections at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) and Cornwall Regional Hospital. The latest death – which brings to 19 the number of babies that died as a result of the infections, most of them premature – occurred at Cornwall.

Ferguson said a total of 483 babies were admitted to hospitals’ special care nurseries since the crisis started in June. Of those, 45 (9.3 per cent) had illnesses attributed to the bacterial infection.

He added that most of them were less than seven months old and weighed less than two pounds.

“When babies are born under seven months, their organs are not well developed . . . their immune systems are significantly compromised, so I don’t want anyone to give any impression that these are babies in the real sense,” the minister said, prompting an uproar from the Opposition benches.

“I’m talking about neonates versus full-term babies, and that is why they end up in the nurseries because they have special issues,” Ferguson quickly added.

The comments received not only backlash in the House of Representatives but on social media as well.

Yesterday the health minister again faced calls for his resignation. But as he did before, he insisted that he had not done anything wrong and he acted as soon as he found out about the outbreaks, although he admitted that he was not made aware until a few weeks ago.

He also pointed out that two people – chief executive officer of the UHWI Dr Cecil White and the hospital’s medical chief of staff Professor Trevor McCartney – have resigned and “the matter of culpability is being pursued”.

And in her first public comment on the matter, Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller expressed “hope” that all the necessary measures are put in place to prevent a repeat.

“I’m sure that all of us in this honourable House on both sides would have a feeling of sadness for what happened with the children and I hope that a system will be put in place that this will never happen again. I want to extended sympathies to members of the families and I hope that the ministry of health and the minister will look at the present system and to see what needs to be done that what happened will never ever happen again. Our children are our future and we have a responsibility to ensure the protection of our children and the future leaders of this country,” she said in a brief statement before taking her seat.

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