Typhoid death: Why wasn't the public told the truth earlier?

OPINION: New Zealanders shouldn't be dying of typhoid. We are a first world country with a first-rate health service.

Not only did someone die of a typhoid infection at Auckland Hospital last Tuesday - but it took the Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) three days to tell us there'd been an outbreak, and seven days to say there'd been a fatality.

They better have a compelling reason for taking so long to tell the full story - and so far we haven't heard one.

Yes, the Auckland woman's death is a tragedy for her family. Yes, they deserved the right to grieve for her at a funeral held on Monday.

But it is completely irresponsible to wait a week to tell the truth. Public health officials' job is to keep the public safe. End. Of. Story. 

Where was the urgency in communication here?

Surely the correct option was to be as open and frank with the public as soon as possible?

No doubt medical staff have been working overtime do an autopsy on the body and stem the outbreak of what could be a catastrophic outbreak of typhoid in our largest city.

But stemming the outbreak requires telling the public 

a) that there is an outbreak and 

b) what we need to do to prevent getting sick.

The official line from the ARPHS is that the death announcement was delayed "to enable funeral arrangements to be concluded."

I don't want to disparage the memory of the person who died and her family, but this is deadly, serious stuff and someone has lost their life. Others may as well.

Typhoid is spread from person-to-person contact.  We're all at risk and we all must know those risks, where this outbreak has come from, who are the likely people involved and what we can do to avoid contact.

Health officials cannot afford to hide behind timeframes, funeral arrangements and bureaucracy - they simply must inform the public of everything to do with this typhoid outbreak as soon as possible.

Communication with the public on this issue could not be more vital.

New Zealand has been rocked by deadly bacteria outbreaks in the past. The worst of course was the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918, when up to 8000 New Zealanders died and 25 percent of the Samoan population also perished.

It's 2017 people - not 1918.

Health officials need to far more upfront with the New Zealand public, because if there are any more deaths from this current typhoid outbreak, highly paid health sector jobs, as well as the far more important matter of more human life will be lost.

These people get paid to keep the public safe. To borrow a medical analogy - this saga has been a massive black eye for them.

 

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