Sunday Brew — February 21, 2021

Sunday Brew — February 21, 2021

with HG HELPS
Editor-at-Large
helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, February 21, 2021

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A disgusting $422-million Health Ministry vaccine education budget

The initial stench emanating from the announcement by Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Chris Tufton of a $422-million spend on COVID-19 vaccine public education and marketing programme is more pungent than on any given day at Riverton City Dump.

There can be no justification for the Government to budget that amount of money, to tell people about a vaccination programme, when people are dying like flies at hospitals which are not now equipped to handle this disaster upon us.

What the hell is wrong with the people, the representatives of the State who make decisions such as this one?

How could anyone who means this country any good first proposes, next oversees the approval and then defends something like this? And to think of it, people cannot be forced to take a vaccine.

Does anyone know how many hospital administrators would rejoice if they were to be granted a mere 10 per cent of that money to take care of urgently needed projects?

Here we are in a crisis, although the Ministry of Health and Wellness does not behave like there is one. Not only is the health ministry caught in a tangled web of how best to handle the situation of treating COVID-19 patients, but it is obviously choked for cash to run the sector, and to now see that $422 million has been discovered like Columbus to 'educate' people about where they can get the vaccine, is a clear demonstration that the health ministry is headed to Doomsland.

Not even a promise for the Cabinet to revisit the issue provides a platform of assurance that any change will be made.

Specially trained nurses are needed to manage ventilators. They are in incredibly short supply. Medical officials have said that at least six personnel are required, in an ideal situation, to monitor ventilators. Why not use some of that money to train the already paltry number of nurses available for that purpose?

The Ministry of Health and Wellness, led by its policy head, Dr Tufton, has some questions to answer. Too many things are going astray. Only last week I got a WhatsApp message from a friend and member of the medical community in India's capital of Delhi, who told me that Jamaica had messed up a deal with India to be the first Caribbean country to get vaccines from that Asian giant. The pussyfooting led to Barbados and Grenada benefiting, she said. Jamaica is only now playing catch-up.

Now we are heading into a public relations exercise, at great expense, which seems quite unnecessary. Aah boy!

Anybody notice that dollar slide?

The tabling of the over $830-billion budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year is out of the way, but there are so many things that we as a people have virtually ignored, yet, the pain that these things have been causing in recent weeks will have a humungous effect on the economy.

Let's look at the value of the Jamaica dollar, as against the United States dollar. The last time I checked, it was taking 151.70 Jamaica dollars to buy one United States dollar. What a scandal!

Now, that same devaluation of the Jamaica dollar has already led to many things happening, one of them being the price that consumers pay at petrol stations for gasoline and other petroleum products, which have gone up for the 10th straight week.

Now, I know that the minister of finance does not like when certain people raise issues like this one, but what is this country coming to? Reality is reality. Jamaicans suffer more and more when the dollar devalues. It triggers a domino effect and forces people whose backs were already against the wall to push themselves further against the hard surfaces.

Those who chase the United States dollar don't give a damn about what happens to the rest of Jamaica… all they are concerned about is the profits that they will continue to make when they enter the daily trading game. And when the Bank of Jamaica closes the gate when the horse has already bolted, by entering the market and selling US dollars at a specific rate, it usually has little or no effect.

At a time like this, it would seem like there has to be a collaborative effort by the State, through the central bank, and private sector interests, for there to be stability in the foreign exchange market. Has anyone ever stopped to think that the Barbados dollar and the Eastern Caribbean dollar have remained stable against the US dollar for over three decades? Why?

This is a time I wish that Edward Seaga was this country's finance minister. He would not tolerate this rubbish that is going on in the market. But then, who am I? ... just a little man on the corner who, according to some political people, knows nothing about finance.

The professional staff at Stony Hill Health Centre

The wife of the head of Cuba's medical brigade in Jamaica, Dr Libietys Avila Gutierrez, a medical doctor, had weeks ago praised some of what was happening in Jamaica's health care at the primary level, saying, among other things, that some of the health centres were going the extra mile in looking after the people.

She had mentioned, among the lot, the Stony Hill Health Centre in St Andrew, which also had opened up its doors beyond normal hours for mostly poor people who visit the facility, and the range of services offered there.

The matter of customer service did not come up during the discussion with Dr Avila Gutierrez, so that's why I was so pleasantly surprised when I went there last Thursday to have a prescription filled for my elderly relative that the staff were so professional and respectful.

It was not the usual talking down to those who go there to seek medical attention, that one has grown accustomed to. Mind you, I had not visited a health centre, or clinic in over a year, so changes in customer service might have taken place without my knowing. But the Stony Hill experience was first rate. Starting with the security guard at the front who greeted you with a genuine woman's smile, to the lady collecting prescriptions, asking you if you wanted to wait, or return in two hours for the medical goodies, and handing them out at the prescribed deadline.

Trust me, it was the kind of refreshing experience that you least expect, and I do not think it was a one-off situation, or fluke. I had to convey my regards to the person handing out the medicines of how impressed I was with the way she dealt with the people.

As I walked away, I wondered if I shouldn't stick around a while longer, not just to enjoy the 'cool breeze' of the community, but to see what had brought about this seeming revolution in tending to the sick.

With staff like those in place, I'm sure that many of those who go to Stony Hill Health Centre, which, incidentally, looks physically grand, will leave the facility content in the view that they were well looked after.

Interesting move by Children's Advocate

As one who regularly listens to radio news, in particular Nationwide News Network and Radio Jamaica, my attention was fixed to an item last Thursday on Nationwide which stated that the Children's Advocate, Diahann Gordon Harrison, was about to examine reports of public unease that the lottery game, Izzizi, run by Mahoe Gaming, could potentially lead to under-aged children getting involved.

I hardly pay attention to comments on articles or news stories because, let's face it, people will have their say anyway, so it's usually best to allow them to express themselves and not get into a fight. But it was interesting to see some of the comments on the Nationwide website after, expressing opposition to the use of the Izzizi term.

I respect the people behind the Mahoe Gaming setup, some of whom have contributed tremendously to Jamaica's development, but if there is such a concern with the name and its connotation, then maybe it should be addressed by the company as a matter of priority. I must confess that before all of this started I had never heard the term Izzizi, being one who does not indulge in such things which are best left for children. Apparently, it is a popular character in a game called World of Warcraft, developed by California, USA, video game developer and publisher Blizzard Entertainment, which has a large following in the 13 to 17 age range in Jamaica and overseas.

Maybe though, the blame should not be placed at Mahoe's feet, but, perhaps, at those of the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Commission, which should have, as part of its due diligence, looked into that issue as a potential non-starter.

In the meantime, we await the input of top lawyer Gordon Harrison, whose initial utterances of 'I just got the communication and so we are doing our checks on the matter', have set the machinery in motion.

The matter of under-aged children getting involved in things that do not concern them, like CAPRI's ridiculous suggestion that minors should in effect be allowed to do legal abortions, is serious. It is not something that you want to blight this country's future leaders, although when you look around, the political influence in such matters is almost unbearable.


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