Public Health Ministry AWOL

Dear Editor,

There is a serious leptospirosis outbreak in a West Demerara community and the Public Health Ministry is missing in action (absent without leave (AWOL)). In the last two weeks alone, 15 confirmed cases with one death have been recorded. There are dozens of suspected cases showing up still at the West Demerara Regional Hospital and many more suspected cases being seen at private institutions and private doctors’ offices. Among the confirmed cases, there is a family with six persons who have been diagnosed with leptospirosis. The West Demerara Hospital has no capacity at this time to test for leptospirosis and apparently the Georgetown Public Hospital is also unable to assist. Patients are sent to the Private Sector for testing and treatment.

In the midst of this serious leptospirosis outbreak, the Public Health Ministry is not acting as if it is aware. From outside, it appears as if either the Public Health Ministry is unaware or it is impotent to act or it just does not care. There has been no public health awareness initiative to advise people in the affected area and nearby communities, no advisory to healthcare providers in the Public or Private Sectors, no effort to ensure a testing capacity is immediately restored, if it is no longer in place. No effort has been put in place to ensure that healthcare providers are familiar with the standard treatment guideline and that there are adequate supplies of the relevant medicines. Early diagnosis is critical to prevent serious medical conditions and deaths and as part of this early diagnostic and treatment capacity, the availability of medicines and medical supplies at the local level is critical.

My information is that the Georgetown Public Hospital has no formal information from the Public Health Ministry that a leptospirosis outbreak is presently happening in a West Demerara community and, therefore, it should be on alert to deal with either increased referrals or more people independently showing up with leptospirosis. When healthcare providers and health institutions like the Georgetown Public Hospital are aware of outbreaks, they are better prepared to handle these cases.

In the past, the Public Health Ministry and local healthcare providers would have been visiting on a house-to-house basis, distributing awareness flyers, providing prophylaxis treatment as the Ministry intensifies efforts to stop the spread of this dangerous infection and to ensure the source is identified and eliminated or controlled.

As is happening frequently these days, the Public Health Ministry is AWOL. When it eventually acts, it’s after the fact. Outbreaks do happen. The Public Health Ministry should never feel it will make them look bad if they make early announcements about outbreaks like these. In fact, early advisories and early community actions are critical in controlling outbreaks, particularly outbreaks like leptospirosis.


Dr Leslie Ramsammy