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My response to the attacks of my credibility as a medical doctor on social media

Yesterday, an article, penned by a “Perry Liburd” entitled Bichara Sahely Has Lost His Credibility As A Medical Doctor, got my attention when it was posted to the timeline of my Facebook page by a “Franz Archibald.”  I was honoured by a former minister of government who even liked and shared this posting on his own Facebook page twice, a person whom I knew very well (or so I thought). I subsequently removed it from my timeline after it raised some concerns among my family members at home and abroad, especially after making reference to my wife in that article.  Also I have been attacked by other individuals on social media, and have been described as “dangerous”, a hypocrite, that I “should go and drop down dead”, all of this in the wake of an article I wrote entitled “AS FAR AS WE CAN DETERMINE:” HELPING TO PUT THE BHS SAGA INTO PROPER PERSPECTIVE.  To make things very interesting, they even went as far as stating that I am not a scientist, and that I was not qualified to comment in my capacity as a medical doctor on environmental and microbiological concerns that may have a bearing on the health and safety issues of the students and teachers at the Basseterre High School.  For those who question my integrity and would like more information on my credentials to make up your mind, please take time to peruse my CV here.

I have been dubbed a political activist just because I have in the past, and will continue to do in the future, risen to the occasion and called out unprincipled behaviour that have consequences for the physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being of our nation.  You cannot have a social conscience and remain silent in the midst of issues that in your opinion may have detrimental consequences to the community you have grown up with and come to love. I have always proclaimed, and my blog articles and postings on the SKNList are there in the open for all to see, that I am not partisan to any person or party, but I am very much partisan to the higher principles of transparency, accountability, equity and good governance.  I carry no brief for any political party, and will always cherish my independence to speak on issues I am knowledgable about, for the sake of raising more awareness, understanding, and appreciation of the strengths and weaknesses of the issues themselves, so that we can do better for ourselves and each other.  We are our brother and sister’s keeper, and if we don’t think and act as a family, looking out for each other’s best interest, then we are only family in name only.

I do not claim to be omniscient, and yes, I do err, so if there is any factual information that can be provided to refute any of my claims, I would be the first person to thank you and stand corrected, as it is in my best interest to be told where my mental blocks, blind spots and deficiencies are, as it is in these discoveries that I am able to grow and develop and contribute more back to my community.  So I welcome different points of views and attacks on points I raise, as I seldom back down from engaging in such a debate.  However, I am not going to engage anyone on any stage who would engage in character assassinations of me or my family, as that is disrespectful and would open the door for more mud-slinging in which I refuse to participate.

So why did I get involved in the first place, and open up myself and my family to attack, knowing fully well the politically toxic environment we live in today?  Well, simply put, it is my hope for a better and brighter St. Kitts-Nevis for one and all.  If I don’t speak up and out, who will?  I would have hoped that more and more concerned citizens who live here would have been able to do so and helped to build a stronger civil society, so that the discussions and discourse of the day in our homes, workplaces, and communities, offline and online, would have become less and less political and divisive, and more and more civil and unified around nation building.

With regards to the CARPHA, CARIRI and NIOSH reports, I was NEVER challenging the findings, conclusions or recommendations of the reports themselves.  What I was challenging was the “very dangerous” conclusions by the now opposition that “nothing was wrong with the school in the first place”, and the insinuation that these investigations may not have been needed after all, and the entire BHS saga was “manufactured” by the now government when in opposition for political gain.  This is farthest from the truth!

Let me make it clear for all concerned that the situation of clinical symptoms and signs may have been grossly under-reported as for each person who were emboldened to speak out and come forward for medical reasons, there were probably many more who hid their symptoms (albeit milder in nature) for fear of political retribution. I know of one person who is a very strong Labour supporter who had similar symptoms at another institution as a result of mold, who was hesitant in handing in a medical report to the administrator, obviously because of fear of possible political consequences.  I went as far to seek advice from our chief technocrat.

Secondly, if nothing was wrong with the school, one must ask why all these recommendations after each report?  I did not see anywhere in those reports that politics was a contributing factor.  If this was a possible hoax for political gains, why was this not intimated by the professionals?  I have no doubt that there may have been psychological factors involved, as anxiety and stress can also exacerbate the symptoms.  Lost in this conversation are the fears, concerns, hopes and aspiration of those who have “skin in the game” –  the students, parents and teachers of the BHS.  If you live overseas and do not have a relative who goes to the school, or you do not have an intimate knowledge of the data and findings of these investigations, how can you make an honest and sincere assessment and make any judgement whatsoever on the situation of the BHS?  Before you start to question my credibility, it would be best to answer this question for yourself!

Interestingly, a colleague of mine who ran in the last elections made a comment when he was at JNF as it pertained to many patients with “trivial” complaints seeking attention and overwhelming our emergency room.  In the discussion that ensued in finding solutions, he got up and reminded us that the reality may be that to us, the complaints may be trivial, but in the mind of our patients who seek our service, the anxiety of not knowing what is going on with them, is very much real.  Just listening to and examining them and reassuring them that it was not as “life-threatening” as they had feared, was therapeutic in itself, and he called upon us to be better communicators with each other and our patients.  Through out all of this, I had very much hoped he would have shared this insight with his other colleagues and party leader, who we all know is also a medical doctor.

In a discussion with a friend, it was brought to my attention that “liability” issues may be at play here, thus justifying the recommendation of no further testing by NIOSH.  However, I accept the wisdom of the recommendations of NIOSH on epidemiological grounds of enhancing the ventilation system in the schools, if we so choose to reoccupy, so as to mitigate and reduce any exposure to possible toxic environmental agents, whether known or unknown, to susceptible individuals, whether known or unknown.  I also accept the wisdom of the present administration, if they so choose with consultations with the students, parents and teachers, of relocating and building at another location, and implementing in its entirety the recommendations of all the reports that have gone before us thus far in its design and operations.  They have agitated for guidance by local, regional and international authorities.  It would be disrespectful and akin to adding insult to injury if the ordeal of the students and teachers over the past years did not become a catalyst for change, not only of their learning environment, but also of the mindset of our communities, and moreover, the quality of the discourse and engagement of our politicians.  I am also looking more and more favourably on the suggestion by Dwyer Astaphan that as a form of psychosociocultural therapy in the healing of our nation, a brand new state-of-the-art school, built with technologies of the modern information and communication age, is the better way forward.  This has to be a collective decision made not by one man or one party, but with significant input and feedback from all stakeholders.

I will leave you with the conclusions of a report entitled Investigation of an Outbreak of Unusual Skin Rash at a New School‏ in the UK which I hope would provide a blueprint in helping address current problems of a similar nature and any future health related issues in schools and the workplace.

“The case-control study was inconclusive but helped eliminate a number of factors. The cause of the rash remains unknown. On balance, the most likely explanation for the phenomenon was suboptimal indoor air quality, possibly combined with other airborne factors with a possible psychogenic amplification component.

The outbreak ended when the school broke up for the end of year holiday. Work was carried out on the heating and ventilation system before the new term to try to optimise the system and ensure better air exchange rates. A few new cases were reported in the new term but the phenomenon did not persist. A more detailed air quality survey is being considered to provide objective evidence of the adequacy of ventilation and air exchange.

 

3 Comments »

  1. Well done Bichara!!!!! We were raised to educate ourselves and share that knowledge for future generations. I subscribed to your blog and have always noted your impartial approach to your blog posts. Your former classmate Lisa

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  2. I chime it at the risk of being attacked but here I go anyway. Unfortunately it has been the norm in SKN that attacking someone is the way to go when trying to score a point, known in literary circles as argumentum ad hominem. We celebrate it in local culture and seem not to realize it is immature and wrong. I am not sure how and when we would change. For one to argue that Bichara is not a scientist indicates their knowledge base of local scholars and i am not sure worth arguing with.

    Regarding the school issue it is disingenuous to argue that this issue was not politicized. Both parties have done this and it really should not be. With the number of cases that came to light it was unreasonable for the then government to suggest that there was nothing wrong with the school without doing a proper investigation. It trivialized the health concerns of the students, staff and all of the people who use the property for the various reasons it is used. The then opposition was also irresponsible to make the call to close the place without having more information; it therefore saw it as opportunity to capitalized on what should have been an issue that united the country.

    Now that we have the report of a reputable organization we should now be looking at the recommendations and not make the best decisions rather than stubbornly moving along. For an institution that is that young replacing it would be of questionable wisdom in light of the present report, the cost of doing so, the logistics of the relocation and the history involved. We should however look more into maintaining our public institutions so we can preserve them. We should also look into the not exceeding the capacity for which the institutions are built. We should make sure that we build and leave space for expansion. We should also look into ways that we can fund these institutions without relying on the public purse but are funded by people who treasure these institutions.

    I recently visited Saddlers High School and was shocked that for a relatively institution the state of the place. Visit almost any of the schools and one would come to the same conclusion. Look at the restrooms int he schools both for teachers and student and the condition they are in. We need to start addressing the maintenance of these places more seriously and fund them better than we do.

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