KINGSTON – The Ministry of Health and Wellness is awaiting a report from the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) on the discovery of a cluster of Klebsiella pneumoniae infections at the Victoria Jubilee Hospital (VJH) that resulted in the deaths of 11 babies between July and September this year.
Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton told the House of Representatives on Tuesday that PAHO was asked to carry out an independent assessment as to what may have been the issues “out of an abundance of caution”.
He said PAHO was also asked to inspect other institutions, such as the Spanish Town and Bustamante Hospitals.
“I am now awaiting the final report from PAHO,” Dr Tufton said.
He confirmed last week that the babies had died from Klebsiella pneumoniae in the neonatal unit of VJH in Kingston.
Klebsiella pneumoniae is a bacterium that is responsible for a significant proportion of hospital-acquired infections. These include pneumonia and soft tissue infections, especially in immunocompromised individuals, such as newborn children or neonates.
Dr Tufton explained that in July, the Southeast Regional Health Authority (SERHA) discovered a bacterial infection at VJH, which triggered an immediate investigation and ministry notification.
He said the investigation revealed a high patient-to-staff ratio and non-conformity with some infection-prevention and control (IPC) measures.
The minister explained that a plan was subsequently developed by a team from VJH, together with personnel from SERHA, the Kingston and St Andrew Health Department, the National Public Health Laboratory and the Ministry’s IPC team to address the issues identified.
This plan, Dr Tufton outlined, included grouping confirmed and suspected cases, with new admissions being placed in a separate area and the activation of the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) to evaluate the circumstances surrounding the increase in cases and oversee the relevant interventions for resolving the situation.
Swabbing and urgent deep-cleaning activities under the supervision of the local health department; evaluation of routine cleaning protocols and implementation of supervised cleaning and disinfecting activities; and retraining team members in IPC protocols were also part of the plan.
“Towards the end of August, I was briefed on the situation at VJH by the team at the Ministry of Health and Wellness,” he said. “By then, the efforts appeared to have been working, with a decline in the number of deaths.
“There were two deaths in August, two in September, coming from seven in July. There were no deaths in October.”
The Minister said the loss of lives was sad and unfortunate and must never be downplayed, trivialised, or politicised.
“I also want to recognise the health team at VJH for their ongoing efforts to complete remediation measures at the hospital, following the cluster of cases,” he said.