Home / Wellness / Health / Dear Editor: Months of missed opportunities: how Deyalsingh and his experts dropped the ball

Dear Editor: Months of missed opportunities: how Deyalsingh and his experts dropped the ball

“[…] Evidence suggests a very strong link between Covid-19 and obesity. In March 2021, the Independent, Sky News and Reuters published an article which highlighted that 90% of Covid-19 deaths were in countries with high obesity rates (in 2018, T&T was ranked 6th in childhood obesity in the Caribbean at 16.5%).

“Now one would think with such data and noting the very strong obesity link (health issues with strong obesity correlation) to Covid-19-related deaths, there would be greater emphasis by the Ministry of Health on encouraging society to become more active and reclaim their health wealth…”

The following Letter to the Editor discussing the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic was submitted to Wired868 by Bishop’s High School football team coach Richard Goddard, who is a former Trinidad and Tobago international footballer:

Photo: Harvard SC attacker Josh Miguel (centre) takes on four QPCC ‘2’ players during RBNYL North Zone U-11 action at the Queen’s Park Savannah in Por- of-Spain on 27 May 2017.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

It’s amazing how we arrived at 1,464.

It’s even more amazing when it’s realised that we really did not have to endure waiting for vaccines to start this fight against Covid-19. Very early in the pandemic, information and data were available that allowed for a more complete picture of how the Coronavirus works and main areas of concern.

Information such as indoor vs outdoor spread (an April 2020 Japan study rated indoor spread 19 times more likely than outdoor), which age-group is most susceptible and which countries had the most deaths due to complications from Covid-19 was available. Stay home, stay safe, wear a mask and social distancing became the world’s watchwords.

Trinidad and Tobago joined the party in mid-March 2020 and we’ve been ‘partying’ every day since…

As time progressed, other bits of information became known such as that persons playing sports were not likely to spread Covid-19, beach and pool environments were low-risk for Covid-19 spread, and children were not the main spreaders of Covid-19, even in school settings (adults were responsible).

Photo: Coach Kishan Geelal (centre) conducts a training session, ostensibly for QPCC, in St Clair on Wednesday 2 December, in an apparent breach of Covid-19 regulations.
(Copyright Wired868)

While other nations such as Germany, England, the USA, Canada and, more recently, Jamaica made tremendous efforts to find ways to keep their populations active and participating in outdoor physical activities, Trinidad and Tobago went the opposite way—with the only justification being social distancing and liming afterwards (the same has been used to keep beaches closed).

We have yet to even be given statistics to support that statement (for local sports), well, except when epidemiologist Dr Avery Hinds linked an increase in cases to the re-opening of sport during a nationally televised Covid-19 update on 29 March. However, when asked about contact tracing data, Dr Hinds admitted there was no link.

At the same time as we awaited the data, we acted based on Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s statement that ‘the last time there was a spike in Covid-19 cases, the health experts were able to trace it back to the opening of beaches’.

This is something that was never previously mentioned (especially during the last 41/2 months) and goes against worldwide evidence of little Covid-19 spread at beaches.

Photo: A lifeguard booth lies unattended during the period of Covid-19 restrictions on 23 April 2020.
(Copyright GhanShyam Photography/Wired868)

We could go on and on about the conflicting information but here’s where I think the Ministry of Health and, by extension, the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago fell short, drastically short.

Evidence suggests a very strong link between Covid-19 and obesity. In March 2021, the Independent, Sky News and Reuters published an article which highlighted that 90% of Covid-19 deaths were in countries with high obesity rates (in 2018, T&T was ranked 6th in childhood obesity in the Caribbean at 16.5%).

Now one would think with such data and noting the very strong obesity link (health issues with strong obesity correlation) to Covid-19-related deaths, there would be greater emphasis by the Ministry of Health on encouraging society to become more active and reclaim their health wealth.

The end result? A 16-month period of vaccination messaging and a 19-month window of missed opportunity.

Now I would expect many to say that it wasn’t 19 months. We tried to re-open twice but people jackass de scene. True, but once the shutdown/lockdown/SoE lasted more than two weeks, all gains would have started to disappear for those who went from active to stagnant (mid-March to mid-June 2020, mid-August 2020 to 22 February 2021 and April 1 to today).

Photo: Taxi?
A woman waits for a ride home in San Fernando on 23 April 2019 during the period of Covid-19 restrictions.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/GhanShyam Photography/Wired868)

For what it’s worth, this has happened in every country around the world. Trinbagonians aren’t the only ones that fell back on our health focus. Science will show you that too.

Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh could not have asked for a better window of opportunity to drive the message into the homes of 1.4 million Trinbagonians daily.

In 2019, Minister Deyalsingh spoke to healthcare professionals in T&T and said that “[i]f we do not act now with vigour, with commitment and with a robust response (…) we will not be able to build enough hospitals [to keep pace with the country’s growing non-communicable disease epidemic].”

Yet still, when unfortunately presented with an opportunity, while having ‘monopolistic’ media coverage and direct access to the entire nation, his message has been about or very close to 100% vaccinate (you’re free to go back to any of the 2021 Covid-19 updates and check yourself).

Photo: Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh (centre) poses with health workers at the Freeport Health Centre.
(via MoH)

It begs the question of how could our esteemed medical health professionals, Minister Deyalsingh, Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram, epidemiologist Dr Avery Hinds, WHO/PAHO representative Dr Erica Wheeler, Principal Medical Officer Dr Maryam Abdool-Richards, Thoracic Medical Director Dr Michelle Trotman and all on the Covid-19 panel of experts let this moment slip away so badly, when the data and overwhelming evidence spoke to improvements in personal health as a critical weapon in reducing severity of Covid-19 symptoms and the eventuality of death due to complications?

What if the same energy to promote vaccines was used to promote physical activity, getting proper rest and eating healthy (stay-at-home orders provided a unique opportunity for the last two)?

Maybe if, instead of hearing ‘Vaccinate to Operate’ or ‘V for Victory,’ we had been hearing something like ‘Get fit, vaccinate and we’ll beat it’ (not the best but you get the drift), we could perhaps have had a national healthy living drive, less borrowing of money, an earlier re-start of the economy and, of course, less stress on the healthcare system….

We’ll never know, will we?

Photo: The Ministry of Health advised persons not to exercise outside of their homes during the first Covid-19 lockdown.

Over 565,000 Trinbagonians have taken at least one shot of some Covid-19 vaccine. How many lives could have been saved if…? Maybe another 488 persons, according to a Glasgow Caledonia University study (based on the total Covid-19 related deaths on 27 September 2021). Maybe more if we aimed to build on top of the already active and healthy population.

The experts missed the moment and the consequences continue to be far-reaching. This could have been gold standard leadership.

Could have been. Sigh.

Some 19 months and counting…

Some 1,464 Covid-19 related deaths… and counting.

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