I heard the tail end of a report on RJR’s 5pm newscast yesterday (May 4, 2017), which said that there had been a significant decline in births in Jamaica last year. This seemed interesting in the context of the warning to delay pregnancy issued by the Ministry of Health (MOH) in January 2016, in advance of the country’s first confirmed case of the zika virus.
During his Sectoral Debate presentation on May 3, 2017, Minister of Health Christopher Tufton tabled the first edition of Vitals, a new quarterly report published by his Ministry, which contains the following information:
This 28% decline in the 4th Quarter of 2016 – nine to twelve months after the zika warning was issued – does on the face of it seem related to the warning. It certainly invites further study to understand how women and their partners responded to the warning and what part various factors, such as discussions and planning, increased use of contraceptives, access to abortion, for example, played in the subsequent decrease in births. It would also be interesting to compare this decrease in Jamaica with other countries which issued similar warnings. I also wonder whether there has been another recent year in which Jamaica has seen an annual decrease in births as large as 7.4%. (The RJR report mistakenly stated that the 28% decline was for the entire 2016, rather than only the 4th Quarter.)
The issue of Vitals also gives an update on the situation with zika in Jamaica up to the first week of April 2017:
It also reported on the cases of pregnant women with zika infections and the babies with suspected or probable cases of Congenital Syndrome Associated with Zika Virus (CSAZ).
There were 827 cases of notified Zika virus infection in pregnant women reported as at 10th April, 2017; 698 have been classified as suspected Zika based on the case definition. Of the 698 suspected cases, seventy-eight (78) have had positive PCR results confirming Zika virus infection. There were 170 notifications received regarding babies suspected as Congenital Syndrome Associated with Zika Virus Infection (CSAZ), 50 were classified as suspected cases of CSAZ (46 Microcephaly – 35 non-severe, 11 severe; 4 other congenital abnormalities). Three infants based on Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization were classified as probable cases of CSAZ.
(p. 17, Vitals: Quarterly Report of the Ministry of Health – April 2017)
There is obviously more to be said about the cases of babies suspected to have been affected by the zika virus, including why the numbers were fewer than initially feared, how the cases of microcephaly compare to previous years in number and severity and how the programmes to support the babies, their mothers and families are proceeding.
Vitals – A New Publication by the Ministry of Health
When he introduced the new publication during his Sectoral Debate presentation, Minister Tufton said that he hoped it would be a source of information and a tool for accountability.
I welcome this new quarterly report and think that it can indeed be a useful source of information about a variety of topics that are part of the remit of the Ministry of Health. I hope, however, that it will be easily and widely available. I found the link to it on Minister Tufton’s Twitter account. Up to the time of publishing this blog post, it wasn’t available on the MOH website or via the Jamaica Information Service website. I hope it soon will be.