Jamaica’s health minister blanks calls for his resignation over babies’ deaths

fenton ferguson

Health Minister Dr. Fenton Ferguson


KINGSTON, Jamaica, Friday October 23, 2015 – Jamaica’s Health Minister Dr. Fenton Ferguson has no intention of stepping down over the controversy surrounding a bacterial infection outbreak at two hospitals that has claimed the lives of 18 newborn babies.

He has insisted that he handled the matter as best as he could, once he found out last Friday about the outbreaks of klebsiella and serratia bacteria at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) and the Cornwall Regional Hospital.

Ferguson has been under fire from the opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and other groups, since he admitted on Tuesday that he did not know what was happening, including that 42 babies in total were infected, although the outbreaks began in June.

But hitting back at the JLP in an interview with the Jamaica Gleaner, he said: “I think one of the worst things that could have happened in this country, and the precedence I see coming, is for politics to be seeping into a sector like health, and we will pay dearly if we allow this to happen.”

Professor John Lindo, Acting Head of the Department of Microbiology at the UHWI has admitted that the situation was not brought to the attention of the Ministry of Health (MOH), and by extension the Minister, in a timely manner.

“A timely report would have triggered a series of actions by the MOH and our international partners including CARPHA [the Caribbean Public Health Agency] and PAHO [Pan American Health Organisation]. However, the infection control team at UHWI who identified the agents were confident that the cluster of cases could have been controlled as on many previous occasions,” a statement from the UWHI said.

Fenton has suggested that he had been vindicated by the UWHI statement.

“Justice must not only be done but also appear to have been done, and by virtue of when I was advised, I believe that my actions since that time represented what could have best been done,” he told the Gleaner, noting that he summoned health and hospital officials to two meetings and also contacted PAHO and CARPHA to put them on standby in the event Jamaica needed assistance.

“The press release from the board of the University Hospital confirms that there was a breach of protocol, and as a result, there was failure to communicate at different levels. When I was informed of the situation on Friday, I did everything that a minister could have done.”

Health officials from PAHO are in the island visiting the hospitals and assessing the situation.

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