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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Chief Medical Officer’s Covid-19 Update for Oct 7, 2021

Jamaica’s Ministry of Health & Wellness (MOHW) had established a practice of weekly Covid-19 press conferences, usually held on Thursday evenings. For the past few months, however, this weekly practice has been less reliable, with gaps of a week or more occurring between press conferences. This was particularly problematic during the height of the current wave of the pandemic; fueled by the Delta variant, it has been the worst of the three waves Jamaica has experienced.

Yesterday was Thursday and I tweeted the MOHW a question about whether there would be a Covid Conversation (what the press conferences have been called for some time) and they responded saying no. This actually wasn’t much of a surprise, given that there had been a press conference last week and that the Ministry had been facing a lot of pressure and criticism from the public and in Parliament this week.

What was a surprise was to learn last night, via a Twitter thread by Gleaner journalist Jovan Johnson, that CMO Dr Bisasor-Mckenzie had given a recorded Covid-19 update, which was sent to the media by MOHW. This is not a common practice.

I am glad that this update was given. It is not a true substitute for a live press conference, but it does give the public some additional important information. Neither the text nor the video recording of the update has yet been posted online on the MOHW website. It was said that the video recording would be released by the Jamaica Information Service(JIS), but I have not seen a link on the JIS website. This all shows immediately the difference in access by the public compared to when MOHW press conferences are carried live by Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica (PBCJ) and immediately posted on their YouTube channel. PBCJ has actually used some of the CMO’s recording in their news roundup today and in a special report.

I have posted here a copy of the text of the CMO’s update:

To illustrate the way in which these updates add to the information given in the daily MOHW Clinical Management Summaries, I will refer to this chart I compiled using some of the figures given in these summaries.

The hospitalization numbers in the daily reports show a strong downward trend but in her update yesterday, CMO Bisasor-McKenzie noted that daily hospital admissions have been increasing in the past week.

And she made the added comment, “This means that despite the trending down of hospitalizations, if the trend for admissions going up continues, our bed occupancy will increase.” This changes the perspective of our current situation somewhat.

Also of particular note in yesterday’s update are the comments about the delay in the availability of the 2nd dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

With so many ongoing issues, questions and concerns, it would be useful for MOHW to return to regular, weekly press conferences.

For convenience, I have included the statement below as well.