WHEN Dr Michael Darville rises to give his first speech as Health and Wellness Minister in the House of Assembly tomorrow, there will be a lot riding on his shoulders.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to beset the nation – and will do for some time yet to come, and it will be Dr Darville at the forefront of the fight against the virus.
In that light, his latest comments explaining why there has been an increase in deaths from the virus recently are far from comforting.
After taking office, Dr Darville has pointed the finger of blame fairly firmly at the administration of Dr Hubert Minnis for problems facing the country in the fight against COVID.
First, it was a need for emergency funding, then he blamed a shortage of vaccines on the former administration, claiming someone forgot to order them, a claim he didn’t back up with evidence and which was rejected by Dr Minnis.
However, it was the way he said it that was curious. “I would like to also say this. I didn’t want to, but when I came to office we realised that the reason why we experienced the delay in the Pfizer from the COVAX facility was because the former administration, someone forgot to apply and as a result of that it pushed us in the back.”
I would like to say this, or I didn’t want to? Which was it, Dr Darville?
We are now nearing the end of October and the fight against COVID is firmly in the new government’s hands – and yesterday Dr Darville spoke again on the issue.
He suggested that one of the reasons for increased deaths at present is that people are leaving it too late to seek medical help.
He said: “We are very concerned about our death rate and we believe that is directly related to individuals who are COVID positive presenting at our tertiary healthcare facilities at the advanced stages of COVID pneumonia.”
Dr Darville added that the patients “have great difficulty breathing. They call the emergency medical facilities and they present to the hospital with advanced stages of the disease and COVID is one of those slippery slopes. If you are one of those individuals who are on that slope and the medical emergency team executes medical protocols to save you, there is going to be some individuals who are not going to make it, unfortunately.”
That sounds dangerously close to blaming the patients for not calling the doctor soon enough. Has Dr Darville moved on from blaming the FNM to blaming the dead? If not, he ought to be clearer.
More to the point, why all of a sudden would patients be delaying a call to medical experts for help in recent weeks?
Even if that’s the case, it surely represents a failure of leadership to pass on information to the country about when people should be seeking assistance. Most people aren’t doctors – they need to be aware of what to watch out for, and when to pick up the phone to ask for help.
Dr Darville said: “We have to find a better way to interface the public medical community with those individuals. We have a plan on how we intend to do that because early detection and early treatment is paramount in order for survival with COVID-19.”
A plan is all well and good but Dr Darville, you now have a platform in front of the whole nation. You might remember the regular briefings given in the early days of COVID. Why not avail yourself of that opportunity and stand up and tell the country what symptoms they should be looking out for as the trigger to call for help?
Free testing appears to be one of the cornerstones of the PLP plan, but that is so far only being rolled out in islands with smaller populations and where there are spikes in cases. That isn’t going to catch an early case in, say, Fox Hill or Golden Gates. So what is the plan for the rest of the country?
Does Dr Darville have any evidence that people are changing their behaviour in terms of when to call for help? If so, show us and make clear what people need to do if they fear they are infected with COVID.
What we need is not a sense of apportioning blame, but information. Dr Darville is the man in the hot seat now. It’s up to him.
We will watch with interest to see if he reveals his plan tomorrow. There’s no time to wait.