Sat | Aug 17, 2019

Glenn Tucker | Infested hospitals in infested neighbourhoods

Published:Tuesday | August 13, 2019 | 12:21 AM
A section of Kingston Public Hospital.
Glenn Tucker
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Respected Attorney-at-Law and new chairman of the South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA) Wentworth Charles is an angry man. He is angry because of reports that there is a roach and rat infestation at some hospitals under his control. Hospitals like the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) and Spanish Town Hospital. He is going to review the multimillion-dollar contracts these facilities have with reputable pest-control authorities.

I do not know these companies, sir, but there is the strong possibility that they may have been ‘given basket to carry water’. I say this because the KPH, for example, which has always had this problem, is in the heart of a depressed area where certain regulations and monitoring activities are sparse or non-existent. Most of the houses are old and overcrowded, with several families with varying schedules occupying one unit. This is a haven for rats and roaches.

Near the entrance to the hospital, there are a number of small eateries that do not have reliable storage and disposal arrangements. But such eateries ring the hospital, with some less attractive ones in other areas.

Research reveals that restaurants, followed by retail outlets, schools, and warehouses, are the main causes of this type of infestation. All of these exist in abundance around KPH. Then it cannot be overlooked that the largest market in the Caribbean, with scores of sidewalk vendors, is within sprinting distance for rats and roaches to the hospital. The infestation there is mind-boggling.

The public can be forgiven for failing to recognise how fast these crafty cavies and cockroaches can reinfest an area like KPH. One pair of rats can be responsible for a population of 1,248 in a year, and 778,000 in two years. But that turns into 482,500,800 in three years. They have not yet outnumbered us because of fighting, cannibalism, starvation, disease, and pest-control activities.

One female cockroach can be responsible for 300,000 cockroaches in one year.

If, therefore, a thorough pest- control job is done today, one cannot rest on one’s laurels because the hospitals are not, and cannot be, thoroughly sealed off from the community. There are strong metal gates at the extremities of the KHP compound on Drummond and Charles streets. They can keep out the human pests. But there is enough space to allow rats and roaches in. The visitors on the benches on the hospital compound eat there. Are birds resting or nesting on the roof?

Please do not let the pest-control companies off the hook, though, Mr Charles. They should be better equipped than I to spot these challenges. They should train hospital staff to spot early signs of infestation. It is possible to recognise the droppings and differentiate that of rats from that of cockroaches. Ammonia should not be an unusual smell in that setting. But rats’ urine smells like ammonia.

May I suggest that any attempt to rid hospitals like the KPH from pests must be a community effort. And in West Kingston, that is a major undertaking.

Glenn Tucker is an educator and sociologist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and glenntucker2011@gmail.com.