Saturday, April 20, 2024

EDITORIAL: Vague disclosures

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The last thing we would want to do is undermine the confidence of Barbadians in our public health system, but this week’s handling of health concerns at the Coleridge & Parry School has left enough questions to make us more than a little uncomfortable.
First of all, we know, based on past repeated interaction with officials of the Ministry of Education, there is this almost blind insistence that schools should not be identified when something negative happens –?regardless of the nature of the event.
Therefore it was no surprise that the initial statement concerning an apparent tuberculosis case spoke to “investigating the possibility that some students at a secondary school may have been exposed to a respiratory illness”. Perhaps the authorities felt by being vague they were being helpful.
However, we should let them know that the vagueness left personnel within the very Ministry of Education nervous, since we received calls from staff there who wanted to know if we knew which school it was and what the nature of the problem was.
And if people within a key ministry directly involved were nervous and asking questions, we are convinced the anxiety would have been even greater among members of the general public.
Then there was the fact that while the statement from the Ministry of Health spoke to “possible exposure”, “necessary investigations”, “explaining procedures to follow” and a “planned visit to the school”, senior staff at the school were reporting the matter related to a student who had been ill, had been away from school for some time and had been back in the classroom for at least a week.
Again we could be wrong, and it may all be just a matter of the construction of the statement issued on Monday evening, but we can’t help concluding that the Ministry of Health was running at the back of the pack on this matter. It appears that the near-panic response came well after the possible large-scale exposure, and this raises questions about public health reporting procedures.
A clarification from health authorities therefore would be greatly appreciated.
What would also be of benefit to the public, we believe, would be an outline from officials of the Ministry of Education on the procedures officials follow before making such statements. We are convinced that the way this matter was handled had the potential to create major panic across all secondary schools.
We therefore would suggest to authorities that their protocols for the future include disclosure to senior media managers, who could lend their knowledge to the process of dissemination of such potentially disturbing information.
The precedent has already been set. Before the announcement about the illness which eventually took the life of then Prime Minister David Thompson, media managers were called to Ilaro Court and provided with sensitive information by both Thompson and his doctor, which led to a much more orderly process of informing the public. It eliminated speculation to a large extent.
By contrast, the near 5 p.m. vague statement in this week’s case only served to send journalists on the hunt for information.

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