Never has it been more apparent the unacceptable levels of callousness and incompetence in Guyana’s modern healthcare system, than with the post and pre-events surrounding the discovery of ‘Patient Zero’ in the first confirmed case of the deadly novel coronavirus (COVID-19) on Guyana’s shores.
The ruckus that ensued with the family before and after the death of Guyana’s first victim and the baffling health authority decisions that followed, only leaves gaping questions as to whether Business and Accounts Degree holder, Volda A Lawrence and the Health Ministry she runs, were ever prepared to handle this disease with the seriousness it deserves.
To frame the issue, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) describes COVID-19 as a respiratory disease. It is deadly. It is aggressive and contagious. It is a pandemic of global proportions because there is little to no pre-existing immunity against the virus. It is spreading worldwide. We had two months to prepare. We now know it is airborne.
Notwithstanding the fact that ‘Patient Zero’ and other members of her family entered Guyana from New York – an area crawling with a massive COVID-19 outbreak – we learnt through the press that the case was first suspected by a private hospital, which has since quarantined a number of its staff.
The now dead woman was then referred to the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) for COVID-19 testing and based on reports, it was only after authorities at the GPHC were informed of the woman’s travel history, that COVID-19 tests were ordered on a fluid sample taken from her body after she died.
What are the policies or chain of command if any, for local private hospitals without COVID-19 testing facilities to communicate its concerns to the GPHC after referring patients? In addition, what prevented the private hospital in this scenario from reporting its suspicions to the GPHC or even the Health Ministry?
In epidemiology, the branch of medicine which is concerned with the incidence, distribution, and possible control of diseases and other factors relating to health, the discovery and tracking of ‘Patent Zero,’ is a landmark factor regarding disease control.
As global infection rates and first-world death tolls in Italy, USA, Canada and other European counties rise, images and videos of health authorities grappling to contain the virus now flood our screens. Europe is now considered the new epicentre of this aggressive and infections virus with its origin in the Wuhan district of China.
A predicament faced early by Italy in particular, was that health authorities were unable to identify ‘Patient Zero,’ early on, hence, an effective strategy to map and track the spread of the virus using data about its local origins proved challenging.
In Guyana, health authorities had the privilege of knowing exactly who ‘Patient Zero’ was, where she lived, when she arrived in Guyana, where she came from, her immediate family, and to some extent her whereabouts up unto death.
Why then, were the relatives of this landmark first case not placed into mandatory state quarantine?
Why then; that given the relatives of ‘Patient Zero’ were people who did not inform GPHC that they were referred for a COVID-19 test, and who denied both at the hospital and on social media that their relative had the virus, were they entrusted with self-quarantine?
There are reports that the day after his wife passed away, the husband of ‘Patient Zero’ and his son – who has since tested positive for COVID-19 – visited the US Embassy to complain to officials about the wife’s death. There are further reports that a sick child from the home was sent to school and also makes frequent runs to the shop.
Were these people ever under any surveillance? Who did this man, his son and the child come into contact with? How did they travel? Where else did they go?
Visits to the Good Hope, ECD, home last week by a social media user after the death of ‘Patient Zero’, furnished us with video evidence showing no signs of high-level quarantine or security presence at the home. Rather, the family were entertaining guests and preparing for a ‘wake’, with neighbours walking in and out of the yard.
In essence, a family who should have been in mandatory state quarantine went about their daily lives, travelled, entertained guest at their home, held a wake and in the process, exposed hundreds of Guyanese to this deadly and aggressive virus.
We know for a fact that those at risk of dying and getting the sickest from COVID-19 are the elderly, older adults and people who have serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease. We are not short of that in Guyana.
Volda Lawrence and her Health Ministry have ‘dropped the ball’ with COVID-19, and there is no excuse why that happened other than pure incompetence, carelessness, callousness and an inability to grasp the seriousness of this virus and the economic implications it would have should an outbreak happen in Guyana.
Important roles like the Minister of Health should never be appointments based on political merit, rather, should be an established leader with the background and track record to understand the importance and seriousness of disease control and response, including what logistic measures ought to be in place based on data models and forecasting.
Guyana is now in deep trouble as the latest figures of our confirmed COVID-19 cases according to the Health Ministry is now four, inclusive of the one death with possible hundreds of Guyanese now having unnecessary exposure to the virus because of this one callous family and the inability of health authorities to take action when they had the chance.
Three weeks ago, Italy’s confirmed cases were just three. To date, that figure has grown to more than 24,700 and 1800 deaths as of the week of March 15.
Ron O D’Avilar