Right Steps & Poui Trees


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“…if we had an earthquake…the compounding of negligence by the State…” – Dr Barbara Carby

In a recent discussion with Dionne Jackson Miller on Beyond the Headlines on RJR (January 24, 2023), Dr Barbara Carby made some comments that have stayed with me. Dr Carby is a disaster mitigation and sustainable development expert and a former head of Jamaica’s Office of Disaster Preparedness & Emergency Management (ODPEM). Ms Jackson Miller was discussing the problem of substandard building blocks, which had been highlighted in a Gleaner article by Jovan Johnson published on December 25, 2022 – Poor-quality building blocks: High percentage of substandard products on the market a “public safety” concern.

About the substandard building blocks, Dr Carby had this to say:

“I view this matter very seriously and I’ll tell you perhaps my major concern. We’re talking about building blocks, right? We are not properly regulating the sector. We’re not doing appropriate monitoring and enforcement. So that’s one element of the whole building and construction. But here is the issue. We are failing at other spots along the continuum as well. So we don’t enforce and monitor where people put what kind of building. Hence we have buildings on steep slopes, faulted areas, gully banks and all of that. So we’re not doing that. Then certainly for the informal sector, as we call it, we don’t actually monitor the quality of the construction. So the person could be using substandard blocks; they could be using a substandard concrete mix to fill the blocks. They could be putting steel in all the wrong places and at the wrong intervals to then confer some sort of earthquake resistance on the building. So you see it’s a series of things going on which, at the end, all could add up to a major disaster if we had an earthquake.”

Dr Barbara Carby in interview with Dionne Jackson Miller, Beyond the Headlines, RJR, January 24, 2023

Dr Carby went on from there to make a broader point about systemic negligence on the part of the Jamaican State:

“I call it the compounding of negligence by the State, because the State is supposed to be monitoring and regulating all of that. And, Dionne, for me it’s part of a larger systemic issue, right? It is the obligation of the State to protect its citizens and it seems to me that in Jamaica the State has totally abdicated that responsibility.

“We have seen it in environment, right? People have to take the State to court. We see it in the development sector. Citizens Associations have to be begging state agencies to enforce laws. We see it in the transport sector, which is chaos. And the most now recent and most high profile example of course is the financial sector. We have to get our governance going properly. The State cannot continue to have this, what I call a very cavalier attitude towards the enforcement of its own laws, updating of laws and bringing them into the twenty – which century are we in?….the twenty-first century, Dionne. We cannot continue like this! We’re over sixty years old!”

As above

Dr Carby mentioned a number of situations in which the Jamaican State has failed and continues to fail in its duty to protect its citizens. There are others.

Having spoken a bit about the need for accountability in the current issue regarding the report on substandard building blocks, Dr Carby commented on the importance of public education, something that is relevant to many other aspects of state responsibility:

“One area which is sadly lacking, I think as well, is public education. We need to let the public know the situation and what they can use what types of blocks for. If you are building a house, ask for the Bureau of Standards stamp, approval for that operation, you know? So a lot of it is an aware public that can help the enforcement, the monitoring, the identification and so on; use the public.”

As above

We need to keep looking at the systemic patterns, at the ways in which negligence by the State already affects people and the ways in which it could affect people in the future. We need to look at why these patterns exist. We need to keep connecting the dots.

Concluding comments

  • The concerns about the consequences we could face in the event of an earthquake have particular resonance at the moment with the news of the terrible destruction and loss of life that has occured because of the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria this week. The pain and suffering being experienced now is hard to contemplate. I hope that help needed now and in the longer term will be forthcoming.
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Happy New Year 2023!

My New Year posts tend to be similar, having some combination of last or first sunset or sunrise photos, and reflections on endings and beginnings, and a wish for a happy new year. New Year 2023 will be no different…

Last sunset – December 31, 2022

New Year’s Eve Fireworks

First Sunrise – January 1, 2023

And Afterwards…

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are special because we deem them so…a recognised meeting point of the old and the new. An opportunity to let go and to start afresh. Yet they are really no different from any other day in that regard…when the moon – in whatever phase – sets…

…and the sun rises on another day…

…when birds, sitting in trees, sing heartily…

…when sunlight streams across hills….

Each day offers the opportunity for reviewing where we are and whether there are things we would like to do differently going forward. We don’t have to wait till the end of the year.

So, Happy New Year! And Happy New Day!

P.S. All photos were taken from my roof…a spot that holds a special place in my heart! 🙂


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Proclamations & Regulations for SOEs Declared December 6, 2022

Up until the time of publishing this blog post, I have been unable to find copies of the Proclamations and Regulations for the States of Emergency declared on December 6, 2022 online. I have been checking the websites I usually check without success – Office of the Prime Minister, Ministry of Justice and Parliament. I have also checked the Ministry of National Security website, which isn’t a site I usually check for copies of the Gazette.

Yesterday morning (Dec 14), I called the Jamaica Printing Services on Duke Street to ask if I could collect a copy of the gazetted documents and was told to check back in the afternnon, but I wasn’t able to. I called again this morning and was told yes, I could get the copies. So I collected them this afternoon.

I am sharing the copies below:


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Egrets: A Quick Look

Although they are called cattle egrets, you often see them in areas where there are no cattle. In a car park on the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona campus, for example, which is where I saw these egrets. Not a cow in sight.

Egrets are one of the most easily identifiable birds in Jamaica, with their white plumage, long legs and necks, bright yellow beaks and their distinctive walk and head movements. A pretty common sight in many parts of Jamaica.

Yet they haven’t always been here. I found this report interesting, of an early sighting by Dr T. P. Lecky of egrets among the cattle at Bodles on November 21, 1956…nearly sixty-seven years ago…

I am so used to seeing egrets around that I hadn’t really thought about their origin and that they haven’t always been in Jamaica or been a common sight here. They are a fairly recent invasive species and a very successful one.

This article by Wayne J. Arendt – “Range Expansion of the Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) in the Greater Caribbean Basin” – gives more information about the advent of egrets in the Caribbean:

Abstract

The Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) was first reported in the Greater Caribbean Basin from Old Providence Island in 1933. It was not reported again from the region until 1944, when an individual was sighted in Aruba, Southern Netherlands Antilles. Within 4 years, the species was reported in Puerto Rico and Jamaica more than 800 km north of Aruba in the Greater Antilles. By 1957, Cattle Egrets were successfully nesting in nearby Cuba and St. Croix. Today, the species is known from more than 50 major islands throughout the Caribbean Basin. Cattle Egrets show strong dispersal tendencies and migratory behavior. The first Cattle Egrets to reach the Caribbean islands were probably migratory individuals. Rapid range expansion in the Caribbean and throughout the neotropics was concomitant with increased animal husbandry and intense agricultural practices, including irrigation and burning regimes. The success of the Cattle Egret in the Caribbean region is also attributed to its high reproductive rate, exponential population growth, extended breeding seasons, and few vertebrate predators, owing to the region’s insularity.

And it’s not only in the Caribbean that egrets have been successful. In this article – How Egrets Took Over the World – Justine E. Hausheer discusses the fact that “In the past 150 years, cattle egrets have self-populated nearly every continent on earth” but says “Just how, and why, remains somewhat of a mystery.”

Hausheer says “These birds are so closely associated with their mammalian foraging friends that one birder I know refers to cows as ‘cattle egret attractant devices.’ And while most birders will see cattle egrets with cattle, they’re quite happy to follow any large, herding mammal, whether it be cows, wildebeest, or elephants.” 

Cattle egrets originated in tropical Africa but can now be seen in almost everywhere in the world. “And while it may seem like they have nowhere else to go, vagrants are still turning up in Alaska and offshore Antarctic Islands.”

So back to Jamaica and the UWI (Mona) campus, where I photographed these egrets…

…that weren’t following a large herding animal, but rather a ride on lawn mower. It was stirring up the insects in the grass just as well as hooves.

Gaulin…Bubulcus ibis…cattle egret…


Some Covid Numbers for October 1-22, 2022: A Brief Access to Information Story

On October 27, 2022, I made the following Access to Information (ATI) request to the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) for information about Covid-19 during the period October 1 – 22, 2022:

Today (November 3, 2022), seven days later, I got the requested information:

And here it is in a chart for the first 3 weeks of October…

That’s all, folks.

Except to say, if MOHW can provide me with this sort of information within a week, it should be able to provide the public with a weekly report of the previous week’s Covid-19 numbers, in the same way that it currently does for monkeypox.

Added on November 4, 2022

I realised that I had left the positivity rate out of the chart I made above. So I am adding a revised chart below…


No New Covid-19 Numbers From Ministry of Health in Nearly 4 Weeks, Despite “Weekly” Bulletins

When asked about the absence of new Covid-19 numbers since October 1, 2022, when the daily updates ended, the Ministry of Health & Wellness (MOHW) keeps saying that the information is being posted weekly on their website.

It isn’t.

The only two copies of the Weekly Epidemiological Bulletin posted on the MOHW website since the daily updates ended are the bulletins for the Week ending September 24, 2022 (posted on October 7) and for the Week ending October 1, 2022 (posted today, Oct 27).

This is not posting weekly and it means that for nearly 4 weeks – October 2 – 27, 2022, the MOHW has published no new Covid-19 numbers. We have no data on what has been happening with Covid-19 in Jamaica for the month of October. Not the number of confirmed cases, not the number of tests administered, not the positivity rate, not the number of people hospitalized, not the number of deaths reported. Nothing. We don’t know if the numbers are showing an upward trend, a downward trend or have remained pretty much the same.

And even if the MOHW posts the next Weekly Epidemiological Bulletin a week from today (November 3, 2022), it will presumably be the bulletin for the week ending October 8, 2022. Which means the information will already be nearly a month old by the time it is published. Not much use to anyone hoping to use such information to help assess the current risk, in order to adjust the precautions they take to protect themselves.

The government tells us to take personal responsibility, while reducing the information it shares that helps us to do just that.

Weekly Epidemiological Bulletin EW39 – for Week Ending October 1, 2022

And now a few comments about Bulletin EW39 itself.

  • For Bulletin EW 38 & EW 39, the MOHW has changed the format in which it now posts the Weekly Bulletin. It used to be possible to download a copy easily, with one click. That is no longer possible. Now you would have to save each of the 8 or 9 pages separately. Less easy access is not progress.
  • I am glad to see that the Bulletin now includes a full page dedicated to Covid-19 (p. 6). This is in addition to the cumulative number given on the page dealing with Class One Notifiable Events (p. 5).
  • The Covid Surveillance Update includes the number of confirmed cases for the week, as well as the totals to date. It indicates the sex and age range for these cases.
  • A chart indicating the occurence of cases over the course of the pandemic is included.
  • The list of outcomes includes the number of deaths for the Epidemiological Week (EW 39). However, it is not clear if that death actually occured during that week or if it was reported during that week but may have occured at an earlier date.
  • A chart is included showing the vaccination status of the people who have died – whether they were fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated or unvaccinated. This chart relates to deaths occuring since the vaccination programme began in March 2021.
  • The parish distribution of confirmed cases is given for the Epidemiological Week, as well as the total for each parish since the start of the pandemic.
  • The number of tests administered, which used to be given in the daily updates, is no longer being given. This is a gap in public information, as it doesn’t allow for tracking the adequacy of testing in the country. It also means that you have no idea what percentage of the tests administered has returned a positive result.
  • And, despite all the problems with it as an accurate indicator, no positivity rate is given.
  • Another number that is no longer being given is the number of people hospitalized. This is a significant gap in the public information, as over time it has proven to be one of the most reliable figures for tracking the ups and downs in the pandemic. It is also that number that has warned us when the hospital system is being overwhelmed.
  • It is interesting to note that the research paper referred to on p. 9 is related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

I have created a copy of Bulletin EW 39 2022, if you wish to download it with one click. I hope that MOHW will change the format on their website to allow for this once again.

The Covid-19 pandemic is not over. It is ongoing. The MOHW is now giving us Covid data that is already a month old by the time it is published. This is not good enough. While it may suffice for recording purposes, it is not good enough during an ongoing pandemic. The MOHW publishes a weekly update giving the data for the previous week for monkeypox. It should do the same for Covid-19.


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Cost of the Negril Sign: A Simple ATI Story

In early September 2022, news came that a new and “iconic” sign had been built in Negril.

There was much public discussion about the sign – its design and construction, whether it was a needed or appropriate addition to Negril, whether it would be the tourist attraction it was being promoted as.

The Minister of Tourism, Edmund Bartlett, spoke of the sign’s “creative and aesthetic appeal”, saying it was “artistically and carefully designed”.

Opposition Senator Damion Crawford said it looked like an “old time saving pan”.

A significant issue raised was its cost and whether it was value for money, at J$12 million.

Questions were asked about what contributed to that cost and I reminded that it was possible to get additional information under the Access to Information Act.

On September 12, 2022, I went ahead and made an Access to Information (ATI) request to the Ministry of Tourism and received an acknowledgment of my request from the Director of Documentation, Information and Access Services on the same day.

(The initial email I sent to the Ministry bounced back, so I called and got the correct current contact information and resent the request.)

Today (October 10, 2022) I received a follow up email granting access, with two documents attached:

  • Breakdown of Cost for the Negril Welcome Sign

  • Tender Report – Negril Sign

This was a very straightforward process, which isn’t always the case with ATI requests. I would encourage you to use the ATI Act for getting information, if you haven’t done so before. If you do, I hope your ATI story is as simple as this one.


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Ministry of Health & Wellness Ends Daily Covid-19 Updates: A Few Comments & Concerns

Last week Wednesday (September 28, 2022), the Ministry of Health & Wellness (MOHW) announced that it would be discontinuing its daily Covid-19 updates:

The release was a brief one and didn’t give any reasons for the discontinuation, simply saying that it would take effect on Saturday, October 1, 2022, and that “[t]he updated numbers will instead be published in the Ministry’s Surveillance Bulletin, published weekly on the Ministry’s website at moh.gov.jm.”

Although the MOHW website hasn’t posted any more of the daily updates since the announcement on Wednesday, the Ministry’s Twitter account did post one on Saturday, which is presumably the last of the long series of daily updates.

I do want to comment more at another time about the fact that for most of the past two and a half years, the MOHW has been providing daily Covid-19 updates in one format or another and the value that this has had, despite gaps in or problems with the updates. Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, public holidays, weekends…the update was posted daily, almost without fail. Someone or some team needs to be acknowledged for that. And I also want to say more about other aspects of the updates themselves.

But in this post I want to raise some concerns that I have about the discontinuation of the daily updates or Clinical Management Summaries, as they are officially called, and the proposed method for sharing the Covid-19 numbers in the future.

The MOHW release said that the Covid numbers will be published in the MOHW Surveillance Bulletin, which is published weekly on the MOHW website, at the bottom right hand corner.

The Weekly Epidemiology Bulletin is published by the National Epidemiology Unit of the MOHW and is a useful record of information for each epidemiological week of the year. It provides information about Class One Notifiable Events (e.g. accidental poisonings, maternal deaths, cases of tuberculosis, tetanus & zika), gives an influenza report and has a report on dengue, among other things.

One concern that I have is regarding how much of the information that is currently provided in the daily Covid-19 updates will be provided in the weekly bulletin. The bulletin already provides a year-to-date total of confirmed cases, which is given for both the current year and the previous year, as seen on the page below:

Epidemiological Bulletin for Week ending Sept 10, 2022, p. 5

But will more information than that be provided, as with the page dedicated to dengue in the Bulletin?

Epidemiological Bulletin for Week ending Sept 10, 2022 p. 7

The current daily Covid summaries provide quite detailed breakdowns – confirmed cases, female and male numbers, age range, number and types of tests, positivity rate, parish distribution, hospitalization data, information about deaths and recoveries. How much of that will be included in the weekly bulletins?

The answer to all of that will be seen when the first of the weekly bulletins containing the Covid update is published.

Another concern I have is about the timeliness of the reporting in the future. The MOHW press release says the Surveillance Bulletin is posted on the MOHW website weekly, which may give the impression that each week the Bulletin for the previous week is published. This isn’t so. The Bulletin is produced for each Epidemiological Week of the year but it takes a while for the Bulletin to be produced and posted on the MOHW website.

So, for example, the most recent Bulletin currently posted on the website is for Epidemiological Week 36, which is the week ending September 10, 2022. It was posted on the website on September 26, 2022, sixteen days after the ending of that week.

And this is the pattern, as the chart below shows. There is a time lag of about 2 to 3 weeks between the ending of the Epidemiological Week and the date on which the Bulletin for that week is published on the MOHW website.

You can see it here again for an earlier period in the year:

If this continues to be the pattern, it means that by the time the Covid-19 updates are published on the MOHW website, the information in them will already be 2 to 3 weeks old. And whereas this isn’t a problem from a record-keeping perspective, it is a problem for anyone who is trying to assess what the current trends are in the pandemic…which has not yet ended, despite what many would want to believe.

We are in a period when we have been told it is our personal responsibility to assess our individual risk and to follow the protective protocols based on our assessments…as individuals, families, institutions, businesses. Whether we wear a mask at all or in particular spaces. Whether we avoid crowded spaces indoors or outdoors or at all. Whether having a meal at a restaurant is a reasonable risk to take. Or going to a particular government office or waiting room at a business place. Or whether it is advisable to attend an in-person event/meeting or to select a virtual option, if one is provided, or not to attend, if a virtual option isn’t available. Etc. Risks which may be reasonable when there are low numbers may not be as reasonable when there is an upward trend in numbers.

To have less information or information which is already 2 or 3 weeks old by the time you see it reduces your ability to make real time assessments of the risks. The situation would already be 2 or 3 weeks further on, by the time an increase in cases or an increase in hospitalizations or an increase in deaths is seen in the published bulletin.

I was not surprised by the MOHW’s announced decision to end daily Covid reports. It is in keeping with the trend in many countries. In our region, Barbados also announced on Wednesday that it would be ending its daily Covid updates, as of September 30, 2022. In fact, I wonder if this issue came up for discussion at the recently held Annual General Meeting of the Regional Health Communication Network.

It would be good to hear from the Ministry its reasons for this decision and what it sees as the purpose of the Covid-19 updates going forward. I would also be interested in hearing if a weekly update along the lines of the current weekly monkeypox updates isn’t a viable option.

When dealing with public health issues, as a general principle, greater access to information is better than less access. When dealing with most public issues, in fact.