The Haitian Under-17 debacle

9 années ago
Dernière mise à jour
2 années ago
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The incident which unfolded with the Haitian Under-17 football team has been an extremely painful calamity for this Haitian-Jamaican, as it entails the mistreatment of my native land by my adoptive country. While claiming to be working towards a resolution of the incident, the Jamaican authorities have continued to demonise the Haitian delegation, and achieved their objective of infuriating Jamaicans against the Haitians, whom they have painted as a sneaky, deceitful, and irresponsible lot, who knowingly brought to Jamaica players suffering from malaria, who refused to be treated, and refused to be quarantined.
We are being made to believe that under the cloak of darkness, the Haitians sneaked out to a pharmacy to fill an anti-malarial prescription they had brought with them from Haiti and were caught red-handed. The Jamaican public-health authorities then battled valiantly to subdue an unmanageable posse of diseased Haitians intent on running amok. The Haitians were falling sick like flies, and the authorities were finally forced to quarantine and then deport the lot of them.
How can the Haitian delegation, which is not even around to defend itself, contend with this juggernaut of disinformation?
Delicate situation
According to the official report submitted by Dr Jean Bart, the president of the Haitian Federation, to René Préval, president of Haiti, the incident was a catastrophic bungling of a delicate situation. Vicious fabrications are now being made up to cover up the egregious abuse, humiliation, and violation of human rights which took place. The most heinous falsehood is that the team knowingly came to Jamaica with players who had malaria, and went to a pharmacy here to fill the malaria prescription they had brought from Haiti. The Haitian Federation has a pool of 46 players available to choose from, in order to field a team of 22 players, if needs be. Why would they be mad enough to travel with sick players, to an international tournament, thereby jeopardising their own performance?
According to Health Minister Ruddy Spencer, members of the contingent were screened by public-health personnel on their arrival at the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay. Health officials were then informed by Jamaica Football Federation doctors the following day that six members of the contingent were displaying symptoms of malaria.
The Ministry of Health has published its own chronological report of the public-health management of the incident. But it seems that the minister has failed to read the report published by his own ministry, which confirmed that the team was indeed screened at the airport upon arrival on February 3, but that it was not until February 14, that the first case of malaria surfaced. In fact, the Haitian report asserts that the team was screened and tested every two or three days to the point that the players felt that they were the victims of medical harassment. Nothing was detected.
The Government is alleging that the problem stems from the difference between the rigorous manner in which malaria is treated in Jamaica, and the cavalier manner in which it is treated in Haiti. But according to Dr Bart, that is a smokescreen to justify the authorities' overreaction. He claims that they were begging for medical assistance, but that they, in effect, never received any. FIFA World Cup regulations provide for the best possible medical care available. It is this notion, that as players invited by CONCACAF to participate in an international tournament, they were entitled to something better than spending an entire day being ignored in an overcrowded public hospital waiting room, which has caused the authorities to paint the Haitians as prima donnas. Exhausted after waiting all day, with nothing to eat, and still wearing the same sweaty uniforms in which they had played a tournament match, they decided to return to the hotel at 9 p.m.
Given that they could get no assistance at the hospital, Dr Bart, who is also the team's medical doctor, decided to try to fend for himself. Based on the symptoms, he considered a possible diagnosis of malaria, and, to be on the safe side, decided to buy some antimalarial medication. He explained to the pharmacist that he was a doctor, and she gave him a prescription form to write up. After giving him the medication, the pharmacist noticed that there was no Jamaican registration number on the prescription. Dr Bart explained that they were with the CONCACAF tournament, and gave her the number of the Ministry of Health representatives assigned to the tournament in order to get a registration number. That is how the medical team found out that they were buying the medication. How else would the pharmacist have known who to call? There was no intention of hiding anything. The alarm then went out that the Haitians had escaped the hospital, and were trying to clandestinely purchase malaria medication.
Meanwhile, the entire team was corralled in the locker room, after playing a match in 40-degree temperature in the shade, with a midday kick-off. Their temperatures were taken, and 11 more people were deemed to have "borderline" temperatures and malaria symptoms, and detained for quarantine. The Ministry of Health's own report confirms that all of the tests, except for the three original patients, returned negative, though the media and the authorities have continued to spread the myth that half of the delegation had malaria symptoms. Dr Bart is convinced that this was done to coerce the delegation into leaving Jamaica, as they could no longer field a team with 14 people 'convicted sick'.
Protocol violated
The charge from the local authorities is that the Haitians refused to follow Jamaican protocol. But the Ministry of Health violated its own protocol, which requires that patients be quarantined if the results are positive. It does not stipulate that anybody who has been in the vicinity of someone with malaria should be quarantined. The 'convicted sick' were placed in quarantine right after the tests were done, but up to this day, the Haitian delegation has not received the results, which they were told that they would get within 12 hours. Dr Bart, as the team's doctor, was never allowed to verify the thermometers.
It is only now that the Ministry of Health report is revealing that the tests were negative. In spite of that, the ministry's report states that it decided to initiate epidemiological treatment for malaria for all of the remaining members of the Haitian delegation.
I would love to see a show of hands for the number of people who would gladly allow themselves to be quarantined, deprived of their freedom of movement, placed under guard, and 'treated', while knowing themselves to be perfectly healthy, with no proof to the contrary. Thus the stories of 'ongoing resistance of hospitalisation" by the Haitians.
Space does not permit to recount here the entire harrowing saga. Please read the official report of the Haitian Football Federation president on Professor Norman Girvan's website:
Why am I bent on giving the Haitian delegation a chance to have its side of the story heard? Is it because I want to inflame matters, as per Minister Ken Baugh's accusation on Live at 7. On the contrary, I am the one who is truly seeking to resolve the problem.
Though the Government has claimed that it is trying to resolve the problem, how can the problem be resolved when the authorities are propagating a story which has the Jamaican public up in arms, outraged at the alleged deviousness and irresponsibility of the Haitian delegation?
Haitians on every continent are hurt, appalled, and outraged that these children who were representing their country were humiliated, mistreated, and traumatised for life on the way to living their dreams. They feel that it is the entire nation of Haiti which has been humiliated and mistreated.
It is not fair to either Haitians or Jamaicans to continue smouldering, separated by a wall of incomprehension and miscommunication. Until Jamaicans know the truth of what transpired, they will continue to feel that Haitians have no right to feel hurt, angry, and outraged. As long as Jamaicans do not understand the source of their indignation, Haitians will continue to be incensed and resentful.
The Jamaican Government has announced that Jamaica and Haiti will play two goodwill matches as a resolution to the matter. Football means nothing when there is nothing at stake. Nothing will ever be able to erase the trauma and humiliation suffered by these youngsters, or the injustice of being deprived of the opportunity to compete, which they had rightfully earned.
This incident speaks to the 'otherness' of the Haitian in the Caribbean context. The matter needs to be explored at a higher regional level. We cannot allow Haiti and Jamaica's historical links to founder over this sordid and disgraceful affair. The Haiti-Jamaica Society is planning a symposium between Jamaican and Haitian journalists, and a concert between Haitian and Jamaican artistes, to build back the bonds of mutual respect and basic civility.
Myrtha Désulmé is president of the Haiti-Jamaica Society.
Source: Jamaica Gleaner

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