I was glad to do a bit of guest blogging for Dennis Jones’ final post in the #AtoZChallege, a rather daunting bloggers’ challenge in April, which he seemed to sail through without difficulty! I wrote about Zika & the rest of his post dealt with the zany (as in bizarre) case of the murder suspect who escaped from the Barnett Street Police Station in MoBay this week and ended up being murdered himself.
In a wonderful demonstration of a random act of kindness, energetic activist and sometime blogger, Susan Goffe (@suezeecue), has kindly written about a mosquito-borne scourge that is affecting the Americas in a major way. Her zeal has kept public awareness high on range of issues, both in detailing the events but also putting the issues into policy context. Thank you, Susan!
Six months ago, most Jamaicans had never heard of the Zika virus. If we had, we thought of it as ChikV & dengue’s little cousin, a mild virus with symptoms that didn’t rise to the level of these more debilitating diseases. If we had been through the terrible Chikungunya virus/ChikV epidemic that swept Jamaica in 2014, we certainly didn’t need to worry much about Zika. Then in the final months of 2015, the news began to emerge from Brazil about the increased numbers of babies being born with microcephaly…
May 24 will make 6 years since the 2010 joint security operation in West Kingston, which resulted in the death of more than 70 people, and by all indications the report of the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry will be submitted to the Governor General before then. It isn’t yet clear, however, when the report will be made public. It would certainly be fitting if that were to happen before May 24.
The last session of the Enquiry took place between February 8 – 19 (2016) and was to a large extent overshadowed by the political campaigning leading up to the general election on February 25.
The Commission held its first sitting on December 1, 2014 and held a total of 90 sittings over 15 months. It was presided over by three commissioners – Sir David Simmons (Chairman), Justice Hazel Harris and Professor Anthony Harriott.
Sir David A.C. Simmons K.A., B.C.H., Q.C., CHAIRMAN – Legal Consultant, Retired Chief Justice of Barbados
Justice Hazel Harris – Retired Judge of the Court of Appeal
Professor Anthony Harriott – Director, Institute of Criminal Justice and Security, University of the West Indies, Mona
former Prime Minister Bruce Golding, former Minister of National Security Dwight Nelson, former Attorney General & Minister of Justice Dorothy Lightbourne
former Chief of Defence Staff of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), Major General Stewart Saunders and other members of the JDF
former Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington and other members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force
former Public Defender Earl Witter, QC
other civilian witnesses, public officials and expert witnesses.
The release of the report will raise again for discussion the value of having had the Enquiry. In this regard, comments made by Lord Anthony Gifford, QC, who represented the Office of the Public Defender (OPD), are important; the comments were made on February 18, 2016, at the start of his final submissions to the Commission.
Seated behind Lord Anthony Gifford is Mrs Arlene Harrison-Henry, the current Public Defender
Lord Gifford thanked former Public Defender Earl Witter for having called for the Enquiry,and for his work on investigations towards that end. He then went on to address the Chairman on the importance of holding the Enquiry:
Mr Chairman, we are going to be urging that you and your colleagues make strong findings in relation to a number of human rights abuses. We hope and trust that your report will be a historic document, which will reduce or eliminate such abuses in the future. But Mr Chairman, I would like to say publicly to those who have had doubts about the value of this enquiry that already the process, which has happened over the last 90 days (but in fact, year and a quarter) has had in itself immense value. And I say that for three reasons.
First of all, it has shown that an event which has cost around 70 lives in one operation cannot be swept under the carpet. It is legally a part of the duty of the state under the right to life, that when life is taken by agents of the state there must be a full and impartial enquiry. So that what has been done was necessary by the Constitution and by international principles.
And in the holding of it and the managing of it, I pay tribute to the even-handedness of you, Mr Chairman, and the intense interest, dedication that you all have shown, especially, may I say, at times when the argument has been robust or the scenes have been emotional. And coupled with thanks to you, I would thank your Secretary and all her staff for the efficient assistance which they have given.
It’s not just a question of law. The second value of the process so far has been that voices, it has enabled the voices of the residents, many residents of Tivoli Gardens to be heard. These are voices which are normally not heard but they have been heard over the last year, the length and breadth of Jamaica and further afield. And I thank the members of the media who have enabled the transmission of these hearings, to all those (and there are many) who have watched them or listened to them in their workplace or their homes. And those voices have been the heart of this enquiry. I would like to pay tribute to the courage of the civilian witnesses, who came forward, re-living the pain of their experiences as they spoke about the loved ones who are here no more. And I say to those witnesses, without your participation, this enquiry would have had little or no value.
Mr Chairman, thirdly, it has been valuable because this enquiry has required those who hold and have held some of the highest offices in the land to come here, account for their actions and be subjected to severe and intense questioning and scrutiny. That does not usually happen. People like the Chief of the General Staff and the Police Commissioner don’t often have to answer questions in justification of what they did. And the exercise has been very revealing. And that is why I wanted to say that, quite apart from the contents of your report, what has happened already has had value in recognizing the pain, the trauma and by re-living it and questioning it to make it bring some kind of understanding and, in due course, we hope closure.
(Transcript made from February 18, 2016 broadcast of Enquiry)
The Submissions and Recommendations made by the OPD are posted on its website, which is welcome and useful. The OPD’s April 2013 Interim Report to Parliament is also available on the site.
Horace Levy has written an article summarizing the OPD’s Submissions and Recommendations, which can be accessed here.
The West Kingston Commission of Enquiry is part of a process. The publishing of the report will not signal the end of that process. It is one more step or milestone in a much longer journey towards accountability and justice for the largest loss of life in a single security operation in Jamaica since Independence (indeed, since the Morant Bay Rebellion in 1865, though some object to this reference).
If you have seen a photo of an Aedes aegypti mosquito recently, it was probably of the mosquito on someone’s skin biting or about to bite them. Like this one:
Aedes aegypti has been in the news a lot because it is the main mosquito that transmits the Zika virus, as it does dengue, chikungunya and Yellow Fever.
It is only the female that bites people, and she takes this blood meal to enable the development of her eggs. Otherwise, the female eats fruit juices and nectar and such sources of sugar. The male eats only this type of food.
On Sunday morning, I was taking some photos of plants at home. The dwarf June Plum tree is blossoming and bearing fruit. And there was an Aedes aegypti mosquito perched on a blossom.
Note the characteristic striped legs. It’s not as easy to see in the 2nd photo. Look closely.
As a photographer’s subject…fragile and delicate as the blossoms themselves. As a disease vector…deadly.
I found myself nodding in agreement frequently as I watched a presentation given by Dr Barbara Reynolds at the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s (CDC) Zika Action Plan Summit which was held in Atlanta, GA on April 1. The title of Dr Reynolds’ talk was “Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication: What the public needs when risks are uncertain”. (Scroll down for link to presentations.)
As I watched the live stream of the presentation, I kept thinking back to a number of public health situations in the past couple of years when the Jamaican public would have benefited from better communication by Government agencies:
the chikungunya/ChikV epidemic in 2014
the Riverton dump fire in 2015
the problems in health facilities & deaths of premature babies in 2015.
And although the current situations with Zika virus and H1N1 influenza virus are being handled significantly better, there are still some ways in which communication can be improved.
Dr Barbara Reynolds’ Presentation
Dr Reynolds defined crisis and risk communication as “the kind of communication that leaders will do, along with their experts, to help people and communities make the best possible decisions when the information is imperfect and we’re under impossible time constraints.” Early in her presentation, she made a very important statement:
“And it may be actually surprising to learn that people can accept bad news more easily than they can accept uncertainty.”
I didn’t actually find this surprising, as from experience I know it is true. With bad news, you know more clearly where you stand and what actions you need to take; with uncertainty, you don’t know where you stand and decisions about what actions to take are that much more difficult. Dr Reynolds emphasized that during such times the public need to have the facts and need to be empowered by having not just the how of what to do, but also the why.
In discussing common communication failures, she noted that “a poor operational response cannot be saved by good communication….[and] a good operational response can be spoiled by poor communication.” Numbers 2 and 3 on this list – late release of information & paternalistic attitudes – certainly were among the problems with the communication responses we experienced during the three health crises I mentioned earlier.
Dr Reynolds said she had seen over the years that:
“people often talk about changing messages based on the fear that people will panic. Panic behaviour is actually very rare, but if it does happen the research tells us it happens when there’s no credible authority and all options seem equal. So what we should be working towards is being as credible as possible at every stage along this response.”
She discussed six principles of Crisis and Risk Communication, which were a useful framework for developing messages.
The issue of credibility and trust was raised repeatedly, and the need for these qualities in leaders and spokespersons communicating with the public. Dr Reynolds stated that:
“Condescension is the number one failure in good communication in a response.”
She shared a number of communication lessons particularly relevant to the developing situation with Zika, where there is a lot still not known about the virus and knowledge is being added to almost on a daily basis.
Dr Reynolds began with and ended with the following message:
Jamaica’s Communication Responses
I believe lives were lost because of both the poor operational response and communication response to the ChikV epidemic. Despite prior warning years before, the Jamaican Government failed to prepare adequately for the possibility of an epidemic. And the poor communication response failed to inform the public adequately about the risks. The initial messages downplayed the risks, which was particularly dangerous for those with pre-existing medical conditions and vulnerable groups such as the elderly. There was also a failure initially to inform the public about the possible medium and long term effects ChikV could have on a percentage of people.
That experience has had an impact on the response to Zika virus to date, not solely because of the toll it took on the lives and health of Jamaicans, but also because of the political fallout. As continues to be shown , the full impact of Zika is not yet known to the scientists and medical practitioners, the public health authorities and political leaders or the public. In this situation, with more possible impacts being discovered and discussed on an ongoing basis, it is essential that the public is kept informed and updated.
Minister Tufton & CMO De La Haye
Former Minister Dalley
Public health spokespersons have been far more visible and accessible, both regarding Zika and the H1N1 flu virus since the start of 2016. It is good to see and hear from the Ministry of Health’s current Chief Medical Officer Dr Winston De La Haye and other Ministry spokespersons on radio and TV and in the print media. Both the current Minister of Health Christopher Tufton and his predecessor Horace Dalley learned lessons from the experience of Dr Fenton Ferguson, whose handling of the ChikV crisis was devastating. I know that Jamaica has experts with the skills and experience to handle communication during public health emergencies, and we must benefit fully from this expertise.
One way in which we need to improve is in making information accessible in more permanent and official ways. For example, although Dr De La Haye and other Ministry of Health representatives give updates about numbers of confirmed cases, number of samples tested, etc, this data is not routinely made available on the Ministry’s website. So if you miss the update in the media, there isn’t a clear place to go to to retrieve it. It is also important that the public aren’t left to guess when the next update will be. More information is also needed regarding Jamaica’s state of readiness to deal with a possible increase in cases of microcephaly, Guillain-Barre Syndrome and other neurological disorders being associated with Zika virus outbreaks.
Zika virus is being increasingly regarded as a puzzling and complex virus, with possible severe effects, despite its relatively mild symptoms. Effective communication with the public is essential, though challenging.
I remember falling in love with Samuel Beckett’s works in Sixth Form. We were doing “Malone Dies” for A Levels and, in addition to having an excellent teacher, the searing scrutiny of the human condition resonated with something in my adolescent soul. After the three novels, I quickly went on to read “Waiting for Godot” and “Endgame” and without hesitation declared the man a genius!
So taken was I with Beckett, that in a letter to my grandparents (then in their late 60s/early 70s) I exhorted them to read “Malone Dies”, telling them how good it was. I still remember my grandfather’s reply in his next letter. He said that at his age, he preferred to stick with writers he already knew and liked. It was the first time I had thought about having to choose which books to read based on limited time left for reading. I didn’t fully get it, but it seemed sad to the teen-aged me. I am now nearly 60, and I understand a bit better. I realize that I no longer have the time to read all the books I want to or would want to. Maybe I should begin to act my age, and not read with wild abandon.
That was how I read when I was younger. With wild abandon. Whatever I felt like. Whatever caught my interest or fancy. I never considered time to read a diminishing or limited resource. Of course I had time to read! I could read it all! I could read trashy novels, an entire fantasy series, a book about world superstitions, Naipaul (till I decided never again), every book by Jean Plaidy, every book by Beckett, “David Copperfield”, “Anna Karenina”, “Lord of the Rings”, I could read it all! I could sample something by an unknown author, wander off down unbeaten literary tracks, not at all concerned about whether I would like everything I found there or not. I had time, I had interest, how exciting it was! I could always come back to the tried and true when I was ready. Maps or GPS not needed! There were no flights to miss, no deadlines for this kind of journey! If I didn’t like the book, that was just another discovery to be noted. No question of time wasted or a reading opportunity lost.
But is that changing now? Or should it be? I don’t exactly hear time’s winged chariot, but I am aware that it may be only another 20 or 30 good years of reading left (given some family longevity genes). Maybe I should become more cautious in my choices, check out the bona fides of a book before reading it. Maybe I should spend more nights at home with old friends, rather than go for a wild fling, a possible one-night stand with a strange author! Blind dates with a book should perhaps be a thing of the past. Those pick-ups in an airport bookstore, waiting for a flight, may need to come to an end. Should I be drafting a book bucket list?
I haven’t decided. And maybe I won’t change my ways. But what I do know is that I am accepting that I will never be able to read all the books I would like to. That was always the truth, but I am aware of it now. And that’s a little sad.