Right Steps & Poui Trees

#ZikaVirus Update: Jamaica, Caribbean & Beyond

The news regarding the Zika virus is being updated all the time. Underlying the updates is an acute awareness of how much is not yet known about the virus and its effects, how much there is still to learn. Almost on a daily basis, new information about the virus’ spread is reported. In this post, I’ll touch on a few of these updates.

Jamaica: 7 weeks after 1st confirmed case of Zika, 4 new cases confirmed

Up until Thursday, March 17, 2016, Jamaica had one confirmed case of Zika virus, a case which had been confirmed on January 29. The 4-year-old child had started to show symptoms on January 17. This was the first confirmed case and remained the only confirmed case for the following 7 weeks.

As I was driving to a Technical Update on Zika, Gillain-Barre & Microcephaly being held on the evening of March 17 at the Faculty of Medical Sciences at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona, this was the foremost question in my mind: Why hadn’t there been any further cases of Zika reported? I wondered what explanations the experts might have for this.

The Technical Update was a collaboration by UWI, the Ministry of Health and PAHO/WHO. A PAHO/WHO technical team was in Jamaica for consultations and the opportunity was seized to have an update which was open to the public.

IMG_9911 (2)

Dr Winston De La Haye, Chief Medical Officer, was chairing the proceedings and after the opening remarks, the first presentation began. Dr Stephane Hugonnet of WHO presented on Zika and arbovirus surveillance, microcephaly and other neurological disorders – recent evidence & implications for health systems. IMG_9648 (2)

At the end of his update regarding the global situation, Dr Hugonnet made some comments about the situation regarding the Zika virus in Jamaica. He said that for Jamaica, the epidemic curve of about 95 suspected cases showed a sharp increase, with a peak in week 5, which corresponded with the week in which there was the first confirmed case at the end of January.  This was then followed by a decrease in suspected cases.

IMG_9656 (2)



Dr Hugonnet said it was very surprising that there hadn’t been any other cases and it was hard to understand having only one case. He said that the surveillance system was working well, and there were suspected cases of dengue, chikungunya or fever and rash that were being picked up and sampled.

He said that it was a priority to assess whether or not the Zika virus was circulating in the country and that it was necessary to strengthen the investigation around the index case, including retesting to check if it was indeed positive. He also advised sampling of the negative tests to see if they were really negative.

Once it was established that the virus was circulating in Jamaica, there would be no need to keep testing all cases. It would then be necessary to monitor the trend of the epidemic and the geographical spread. It would also be necessary to monitor pregnant women and cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), and to establish baseline data for microcephaly and GBS.

At the end of Dr Hugonnet’s presentation, Dr De La Haye resumed the podium to continue his duties as Chairperson. In a rather dramatic turn of events, he told the gathering that on his way to the symposium, he had actually received information that 2 new cases of Zika had been confirmed. This meant that the country now had a total of 3 confirmed cases. He noted that the 2 cases had been confirmed by the recently upgraded Virology Lab at UWI, saying that it was an advantage to have a shorter turn around time for getting test results. (See JIS report regarding UWI Virology Lab upgrade)

MOH zika virus press conference 18-3-16

Ministry of Health press briefing on Zika virus, March 18, 2016 (Far left: Dr De La Haye. 2nd from left Minister Tufton.)

By the time the Ministry of Health held a press briefing the following afternoon (Friday, March 18), the number of confirmed cases had increased to 4. Remarks by Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton at Zika press briefing – 18-3-16 By the post-Cabinet press briefing on Tuesday, March 22, another case had been confirmed, bringing the total to 5. Four of the cases were in Portmore, St Catherine and one was in Lyssons, St Thomas. And it is expected that the number of cases will increase.

moh zika tufton more cases 18-3-16

Representatives of the Ministry of Health have been doing many media interviews, outlining the steps being taken by the Ministry regarding the increased number of cases and reiterating the ongoing public health messages about reducing the risks of being infected by the Zika virus.

Caribbean Public Health Agency Update on Zika in the Caribbean

On March 23, 2016, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) posted a short video in which Executive Director, Dr. C. James Hospedales provided an update on the Zika virus in the Caribbean region. (Click here for video.)carpha zika virus video update 23-3-16Some points made by Dr Hospedales:

  • 15 countries in the region have reported cases of Zika virus transmission in their countries/territories.
  • Microcephaly & Guillain-Barre are rare conditions and are not required to be reported in the Caribbean region, so there is little baseline data on these conditions.
  • CARPHA is now in the process of setting up collection of baseline data.
  • The Caribbean is vulnerable to Zika virus for a number of reasons: a susceptible population which has not met the virus before, wide spread Aedes aegypti mosquitoes & a lot of travel in and out of the region.
  • In another 2 months, many of the countries will see the start of the rainy season, which will increase possibilities for increased mosquito breeding.
  • The two most important messages for stopping the spread of Zika are stopping the mosquito breeding & stopping the mosquitoes biting.

CDC Issues Updated Zika Recommendations to do with Pregnancy and with Sexual Transmission

On March 25, 2016, the US Centres for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), issued an update of its recommendations regarding aspects of Zika Virus. (Click here for full update.)

cdc update re zika 25-3-16

The updated recommendations, which are worth reading in full, are given under 3 headings:

Article 1: Updated interim guidance for pregnant and reproductive age women

Includes the following:

cdc zika 25-3-16 coloured page A

Article 2: Updated interim guidance for preventing sexual transmission of Zika

Includes the following:

cdc zika 25-3-16 coloured page B

Article 3: Increasing access to contraception in areas with active Zika transmission

Includes the following:

cdc zika 25-3-16 coloured page C

(It is significant to note that more than 50% of pregnancies in Jamaica are unintended, which impacts the public health education regarding Zika and pregnancy here also.)

As the spread and impact of the Zika virus continues in the region, we in Jamaica need to keep informed and act on the information to best protect ourselves from this new personal and public health challenge.




Poor Man’s Orchid Plays with the Light

The play of light on plants. On trees, on leaves, on flowers.


I love taking photos of sunlight on flowers.


Poor Man’s Orchid.


Bauhinia purpurea


The scientific name ‘Bauhinia’ comes from two Swiss-French botanist brothers, Johann and Gaspard Bauhin. Which I didn’t know before.


Trees in flower may already show numerous pods.  Elongated dehiscent pods.  Dehiscent: opening spontaneously to release seeds or pollen.

The Poor Man’s Orchid tree in my garden fell sideways in one of the hurricanes. Gilbert, I think. But decades later, askew, it still flourishes.



Pause for a Moment & Consider Parliamentary Prayer

Not very important in the grand scheme of things, you might say, and you’d probably be right. With all that is facing us nationally and globally, Parliamentary prayer is hardly among the issues on anyone’s list of priorities.

But it crossed my mind last Thursday (March 10) as I watched the opening of the new Parliament taking place at Gordon House, with the swearing in of the new Senators and Members of Parliament.

Parliament MPs prayer head of JCC 10-3-16At the start of the ceremonies to open both the new Senate and the new House of Representatives, the President of the Jamaica Council of Churches was asked to say a prayer, which he did. And, as one would expect, it was a Christian prayer.

This took me back to a time many years ago, when I sat beside a friend in the Visitors’ Gallery in Parliament for a debate on a piece of legislation. She is not a Christian, but is from another religion represented in Jamaica, and after the regular prayer was read, she said quietly, “Where does that leave me?”

parliamentary prayer with highlighting - taken from website

Standard prayer used at beginning of regular sittings of the Senate & House of Representatives of Jamaica. (Found on last page of Standing Orders.)

It is a valid question. What message is sent to the many Jamaicans of other than Christian belief when prayers routinely said in Parliament are Christian prayers? The follow-up question is – does it matter what message is sent?

diG - census - population_distribution_by_religious_affiliation_denomination_2001_2011

diGJamaica infographic showing population by religious affiliation/denomination in 2001 & 2011 census. Click here and then click on “Image”.

As the most recent census shows, Christianity is the majority religion in Jamaica, with a variety of different denominations represented. Other specific religions form a small number, but the full picture is clearly not captured in the infographic and/or the census results.

census 2011 Q 1.5 re religious affiliation

Question 1.5 from 2011 Population and Housing Census individual questionnaire.

The question about religious affiliation on the questionnaire used for the census in 2011 gives a list of specific choices and provides an option for other religions/denominations to be given. It is interesting to note the sizeable number of people in the Other religion/denomination (169,014), No religion/denomination (572,008) and Not reported (60,326) categories, as shown in the graphic. (I wonder if some of those in the No religion category may reflect a feeling of it’s-none-of-the-government’s-business-what-my-religion-is.)

But back to Parliamentary prayer. Although the majority religion in Jamaica is Christianity, there is no state religion. Is the majority position and the traditional practice sufficient reason to continue the current practice in Parliament?

There have been some attempts in the past to review or revise the prayer said in Parliament, but I don’t remember at the moment what the reasons were for the suggestions, what the proposed changes were or what happened to those attempts.

If the issue were to be raised again, what would you suggest be done?

A) Nothing. It’s fine as it is. Jamaica is a Christian country and the current practice reflects that.

B) Sometimes have prayers said which represent other religions with proponents in Jamaica.

C) Draft a non-denominational prayer that could reflect a wider range of religious beliefs.

D) Stop having a spoken prayer. Have instead a moment for silent prayer or reflection, allowing each person to act according to their personal belief.

E) Other (Specify) __________________________________________




The Pragmatic Privet Hedge: A Closer Look

You can hardly get more mundane and pragmatic than a privet hedge. Dull green, prickly plants forming boundary hedges for many homes. Neatly trimmed or a bit scraggly and thinning.


Step a little closer. The hedge is in bloom and bearing fruit.


Closer still. The knobbly buds. The delicate fairy hair blossoms.

The pods and fruit and seeds.




As a child, I used to cook them in mud soups and stews. They looked delicious, but I was  warned not to eat them, for they will poison you, I was told.



Come close. But don’t touch.



You Voted/You Didn’t Vote. New Government & New Parliament in Place. Work Continues.

So whether you voted or not, whether the party you wanted to win actually won or not, the new government has been formed. The new Prime Minister was sworn in on March 3 at King’s House.

holness sworn in 3-3-16

Andrew Holness sworn in at ceremony at King’s House, presided over by Governor General, Sir Patrick Allen

The new Cabinet members were sworn in on March 7 and the list (18 Ministers in 14 Ministries) can be seen here. Cabinet Ministers Jamaica – March 2016Cabinet 3-2016

And today Parliament re-opened, with the first sittings of both the new Senate and House of Representatives. All 21 Senators (Senators March 10, 2016)  and 61 of 63 Members of Parliament  were sworn in. (Dr Omar Davies was not present, due to illness & Mr Derrick Kellier is at the continuing magisterial recount being conducted for his constituency of Southern St James.) The new President of the Senate and the new Speaker of the House were both elected by their fellow members, as were their Deputies.


Both Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Leader of the Opposition Portia Simpson Miller made brief remarks, in which each included an appeal to the newly sworn Members of Parliament to behave in a suitably respectful manner during the sittings of the House.

A number of people commented on Twitter during the ceremony that this was a learning opportunity  for many, including students; one teacher actually tweeted that he and his students were watching at the time. Going forward this will be a learning experience for the Parliamentarians also, particularly those who are in Parliament for the first time. The Handbook for Parliamentarians, which gives a briefing about the workings of Parliament, is a useful short guide for the public as well.


So the election excitement (or irritation) is behind us; the pre- & post- election analysis, discussion and debate has subsided or moved to another phase. Now what? Well, the country continues on.

Some people hold the view that  your role as a citizen in this process is pretty much over. They would say you can now pack it in until the next election (which may be less than 5 years from now, given the narrow margin in Parliament). I obviously disagree. I believe that it is important for citizens in a democracy to stay engaged, in the differing ways possible.

By the way, the Gleaner’s diGJamaica has provided a list of social media contacts for MPs, Ministers and Senators, and has promised to update it as necessary. One way to engage!

diG tweet re social media contacts 10-3-16

The unprecedented one-seat majority in the House is going to provided a new experience for the MPs, for the political parties and for the country as a whole. It will be fascinating to watch from a purely academic perspective, but the impact for us as a country takes it way beyond the academic. It provides opportunities and tests for the maturity of our democracy, our political leaders and MPs and the society generally. Hopefully we will pass the test creditably.





Love Affair with Literature on a Sunday Morning

The prospect of continuing a love affair may indeed rouse you early on a Sunday morning, and cause you to wend your way expectantly to the UWI Mona Campus. Love Affair with Literature 5. IMG_8908

And once there, poet Tanya Shirley welcomes you on behalf of the Department of Literatures in English, assuring you that this is one love affair that is okay, with no risk of fornication, sin or hell!

(Kellie Magnus then reminds you that this is the start of Kingston Book Festival 2016.)


A-dZiko Simba Gegele reads from her novel “All Over Again”, and you enter into the world of a young boy carrying home his school report to his mother. IMG_8916

This envelope full of bad things.

Look, you tell yourself. You just have to explain that not everyone can be good at everything. Surely she will understand. You are good at climbing trees, and swimming in rivers and making bingys and you can hit a cricket ball right over the school fence and you know where to find sweet guavas….

IMG_8917Mel Cooke reads a number of his poems, having you follow him as he highlights social issues, individual and collective pain, ending with the first poem in his collection “11/9”, reiterating that he is indeed a “Word Terrorist”:

Me a no no writa

no poet, no journalis’.

No rhyma, no chanta

no Gleana Tursday columnist.

Me? Me is a word terroris’ –

Olive Senior reads a poem from 30 years ago and a more recent poem, both to do with the environment, and then reads from her new collection of short stories, “The Pain Tree”, which is to have its Jamaican launch this Thursday.IMG_8922

That was fine with Mrs. F, for she loved to explain things to foreigners. One of the reasons – perhaps the only reason – she liked going to her Book Club – she hated reading – was that it was full of foreigners, many of whom were attached to embassies. She was frequently asked to their little do’s, and she and her husband to some of their big parties celebrating this Day or that Day – something that gave her one up on those poor souls who never got invited to Foreign Missions, as Mrs. F loved to call them. (From the story “The Country Cousin”)



Vladimir Lucien, St Lucian poet who is currently Writer in Residence at UWI Mona, reads from his collection “Sounding Ground”, and you are entranced when he reads the poem “Tjenbwa: Protean” – from the Tjenbwa series – first in Creole and then in English.

                                                                    The moth that enters

                                                                    your house at night is a grudge

                                                                    that somebody is holding

                                                                     against you.

Then it is over. You feel good, as you leave, perhaps taking a book or two with you to preserve the love…through till next year, when you hope…hope…the Love Affair with Literature will continue….


love affair with lit 2016

They Say a Week is a Long Time in Politics…Jamaica, February 25 – March 3, 2016

Thursday, February 25 – Election Day

Polls opened at 7:00am. Party leaders Portia Simpson Miller and Andrew Holness were among the more than 870,000 voters who went to polling stations to cast their ballots on Election Day.

Observer photo - Portia votes - 25-2-16holness votes 25-2-16                                     (Photo credits: Jamaica Observer & Reuters/Gilbert Bellamy)

I was one of many who posted photos of their inked fingers online.

election tweet inked finger 25-2-16

After the polls closed at 5:00pm, the counting began, as did the monitoring and discussions on radio, television and social media. And later that night, the Preliminary Count by the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) showed that the JLP had  won the election with 33 seats, to the PNP’s 30.

ECJ 10-26

Mr Holness gave his victory speech & PM Simpson Miller gave her concession speech.


election holness psm 3election - psm concession speech 25-2-16

Among those celebrating at JLP Headquarters on Belmont Road was former PM & JLP leader Edward Seaga.

election 2016 Seaga party HQ 25-2-16

Friday, February 26

Final counting for all constituencies across the island commenced, with counting taking place in the designated counting centres in each constituency except for five – St Andrew Eastern, St Ann South Western, St Mary South Eastern and St Catherine North Eastern which were being counted at the Head Office at Duke Street Kingston; and St James Southern which was being counted at the Regional Office in Montego Bay.


ecj prelim chart with turnout 26-2-16

Figures released based on the Preliminary Count indicated that the % voter turnout was the lowest for a General Election in Jamaica’s electoral history. (Except for 1983, when the PNP didn’t contest the election.)

Saturday, February 27

Following the Final Count for the St Mary South Eastern constituency, the PNP’s Winston Green was declared the winner, instead of the JLP’s Norman Dunn, who had been declared the winner on the night of the election. This meant that the result of the election stood at JLP: 32 and PNP: 31. Tensions heightened as, with the Final Count still going on in many constituencies, another seat changing from the JLP to the PNP would change the overall result of the election.

gleaner green wins by 9 votes 27-2-16


Sunday, February 28

Rumours and speculation increased. At one point in the day, a rumour spread that the JLP had lost another seat during the recount, but this was not so. PM Simpson Miller and Dr Horace Chang both issued statements amid the increasing tension.

Gleaner PSM urges calm - 28-2-16Gleaner Chang urges calm 28-2-16

Director of Elections, Orrette Fisher made the decision to move another constituency recount to the Head Office in Kingston, and this was done with the security forces escorting the ballot boxes from St Thomas to Kingston.

gleaner tweet election st thomas western 28-2-16

Monday, February 29

ecj 29-2-16 2

Dorothy Pine-McLarty, ECJ Chairman (right); Orrette Fisher, Director of Elections (2nd right)

The Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) held a press conference to give an update on the Final Count of votes. They informed the country that the Final Count of votes had been completed in 62 of the 63 constituencies. The Final Count for the constituency of St. Thomas Western was being continued at their office at Duke Street and was subsequently completed later that day. Press conference statement

Tuesday, March 1

The ECJ confirmed the Final Count and the outcome of the election, and indicated that the results would be sent to the Governor General. The results represented the narrowest majority in seat count for a General Election in Jamaica.

eoj FB final count march 1 2016

Wednesday, March 2

The official announcement came that the swearing-in of Andrew Holness as Prime Minister would take place the following day.

opm swearing in announcement 2-3-16

Thursday, March 3

The Governor General, Sir Patrick Allen , presided over the ceremony held at King’s House, at which Andrew Holness took the Oath of Allegiance and the Oath of Office and became  Prime Minister of Jamaica. PM Holness then delivered his inaugural address.

holness takes oath 3-3-16 2

The ceremony was attended by outgoing Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, and the three other living former Prime Ministers – Bruce Golding, P.J. Patterson & Edward Seaga.

There were a number of musical items during the ceremony, but perhaps the highlight was the performance by Nesbeth, who sang his song My Dream, which had been used by the JLP during the campaign. The new PM joined him in singing.nesbeth holness tweet 3-3-16

As they say, a week is a long time in politics….