They fiddle while we burn

alfa nero editorial
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It has been quite some time since a request was formally sent to the Honourable Molwyn Joseph, our good Minister of Health and Wellness, for an accounting as to the circumstances surrounding the unfortunate death of Lateefa George, while she was a patient at the Clarevue Hospital. If you recall, Lateefa, rest her soul, was checked into Clarevue on September 4 by her mom, after she complained of feeling mentally unwell. Her mom, a dear lady named Norma George, said that she went to visit her daughter on October 30, and found her unresponsive. It all went downhill from there, and sadly, Lateefa departed this life on October 31.

Not surprisingly, there was the usual handwringing and bellyaching, from Those in High Places who feigned innocence and concern. Fortunately, not many Antiguans and Barbudans were fooled by the loud protestations.  We had all seen that act before, and quite frankly, it has worn thin.

Anyway, here was the good Chief of Staff in the Office of the Prime Minister, Lionel ‘Max’ Hurst, doing his best Brer Anancy impression. Indeed, all that was needed to complete the charade was for him to pull out his handkerchief and dab at his eyes. Sigh! Said the good Ambassador Hurst, “A twenty-year-old ought not just to die. The human body can last over 80 years, especially for women in Antigua and Barbuda. We know that something went wrong, . . . The Antigua and Barbuda people deserve to know what went wrong and must be assured whatever went wrong, won’t go wrong again.” 

Those in High Places have promised a vigorous inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Lateefa’s death. We have heard reports that she was allegedly handled roughly, and that her neck was not properly supported when she was being moved. We certainly trust that that was not the case. We are also hoping that the health authorities will not only cry crocodile tears, but that they will act with some dispatch in this regard. The bereaved family deserves answers, as do the citizens of Antigua and Barbuda.  We need the assurance that when our ailing loved ones are entrusted to a medical facility, that they will not die as a result of negligence or shoddy treatment, or misadventure.

There is a maxim, often attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, that suggests, The measure of a civilisation is how it treats its weakest members.”  Another variation of that truism declares, How a society treats its most vulnerable – whether children, the infirm or the elderly – even animals, is always the measure of its humanity.” Based on how this piteous Ministry of Health treats the sick and the infirm, it has flunked the humanity test. Oh, the horrendous working conditions, the unsanitary and non-working restroom facilities, the lack of basic supplies like toilet paper and hand sanitisers, the mildew and mold, the closure of the Cancer Centre (never mind the recent happy talk), the abandonment of the state-of-the-art hospital on Nugent Avenue, the ongoing nightmare at Clarevue, the closed clinics, the closed operating theatres, the proliferation of mosquitoes at the Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre, the oppressive heat, and so on and so forth. We are in a bad way.

Of course, we fear that Those in High Places, notwithstanding their sanctimonious pronouncements will not mount a vigorous investigation. No heads will roll. Indeed, there may not even be a report to the concerned citizenry, never mind the grieving family. This callousness is of a piece with the way that this Administration operates. So many calls have been made for inquiries into disturbing matters in so many areas of our lives here in fair Antigua and Barbuda, and Those in High Places have promised to investigate them, and nothing has ever come of the supposed investigations. No update. No report. Nothing!  The supposed investigations have all died natural deaths, and we continue with business as usual. (See the slaying of the unarmed Mannie James in August of last year, and the drowning deaths of fourteen African migrants off St Kitts in March.)

Consider, if you will these excerpts from a letter to the good Minister of Health from investigative reporter, Nikki Phoenix, on the vexing Lateefa George matter: On November 28, 2023, you held a press conference via ABS Television, where you invited Gemma Handy and me to refute claims that there is a cover-up in the death of 27-year-old Lateefa George, who died under unexplained circumstances while she was a patient at Clarevue Mental Hospital. At the press conference, we asked you several questions about the incident and how you and the Ministry of Health handled it. You assured Gemma, myself and the public at large that you would provide us with an update . . . It has been over a week since the press conference and we have not heard anything from you or the Ministry of Health. This is not only disappointing but also alarming, as it appears to show a lack of respect and concern for Lateefa’s fiancé Danny Thomas, her parents, the media and the general public, who deserve to know the truth about Lateefa’s death and how the healthcare system at Clarevue Psychiatric Hospital failed her. Your silence and lack of action has potential to harm the reputation and credibility of the Ministry of Health, Clarevue, Prime Minister Gaston Browne, this administration and Antigua and Barbuda. I respectfully urge you to provide us with the answers to these questions as soon as possible, and to include an update on this matter in this week’s Cabinet Notes. This is a matter of urgency and importance that cannot be ignored or postponed any longer. . . .”

Good luck, Nikki and Gemma. Yours will be a long wait.

The Ministry of Health, and this Administration, will fiddle while we all burn . . . In the meantime, we extend our heartfelt condolences to Lateefa’s distraught mom, and the rest of her bereft family. May the Lord provide them with some measure of comfort in their hour of grief.

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