Deyalsingh blasts UNC MP’s criticisms of sector – ‘Health is not a bobolee’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh helps spread Christmas cheer with the Salvation Army’s music band during his visit to mothers who gave birth on Christmas Day at the Mt Hope Women’s Hospital on Monday. – Photo by Roger Jacob

HEALTH Minister Terrence Deyalsingh has blasted St Augustine MP Khadijah Ameen for what he termed as her unfair criticisms of the public health sector during a media interview she did on the weekend.

Ameen was reported as saying, “We need hospitals where people won’t have to sleep on the floor in emergency for days, and waiting lists for surgery into the next two years.”

But speaking to reporters at the Mt Hope Women’s Hospital on Christmas Day, Deyalsingh countered by saying Ameen’s criticisms were unfair and could lead to low staff morale in the public health sector. He spoke after meeting and greeting women who gave birth on Christmas Day. He also visited the Port of Spain General Hospital during the day.

Presenting chocolates to Mt Hope nurses in a symbolic gesture of thanks to all nurses in TT, he lauded that they had been the ones of implement Government policy that had seen steady drops in maternal mortality, with zero deaths in childbirth this year.

He said, “I want to credit them with the work they have done.

“In saying that, I also want to wish Khadijah Ameen a softness of heart, because I read in the papers this morning her Christmas greeting which was that we have patients sleeping on the floors of our hospitals. That is a patent lie.

“And I don’t know why we take health as a bobolee to be beaten up. It demoralises the staff when people say things like that,” Deyalsingh said.

Asked about maternal mortality figures for this year, Deyalsingh said, “None so far for 2023, which is a record. But nobody will write about that. Nobody will scream about that. Nobody will break down my door to interview me on that.” He said this was all down to the yeomen service given by the nursing staff.

“That’s why when people make comments in the public domain, because they see health as a convenient bobolee, it upsets me.

Because then I have to come in to the staff and talk to them and counsel them because they are unfairly targeted like (what) Khadijah Ameen did. On Christmas Day, of all days, you would choose to do that? Christmas Day?

“You can’t recognise and put aside the politics for one day of the year? You say patients are sleeping on hospital floors?” He said that in 2022, there had been two maternal deaths, both being covid-related.

LOVE YOU BABE: Latoya Hernandez kisses her newborn boy who was born on Christmas Day at the Mt Hope Women’s Hospital on Monday. Photo by Roger Jacob

BREAST FED IS BEST FED

Otherwise, he said that post-covid, his ministry has re-enacted its breast feeding policy for new mothers. “The rate of early initiation of breast feeding then (2020) was ten per cent. Now it is 95 per cent.

“So when we are asked what are we doing about NCDs (non-communicable diseases) that is the first step. To get mothers to breast feed their children, their babies, as young as possible.”

Saying nurses initiate mothers to breast feed, he vowed to always defend them against unfair criticism. He called a senior nurse who told reporters the longer a mother breast feeds the better she boosts her baby’s immune system and overall health.

He was also asked about the Prime Minister’s reference, earlier this year, to the Caricom symposium on crime as a public health issue and a recent report by the Joint Select Committee on National Security calling for health and social services officials to be part of a proposed Roots of Crime Working Group.

“So when you talk about a public health emergency – let’s take covid as an analogy – it means you are trying to implement measures in the case of covid to inoculate or vaccinate the susceptible.

“So, dealing with crime as a national health emergency, is exactly what you are saying – to come up with measures to go into communities to vaccinate or inoculate those susceptible individuals against following a life of crime. When called upon, as we have been, we will submit our recommendations.”

Deyalsingh also said the birth rate in TT has been declining over the years. “It is a concern globally. What you are seeing is declining birth rates among industrialised countries.

“We are now down to less than about 13,000 live births a year. You may recall 20-30 years ago it used to be 33,000. Remember we used to have to find 30,000 places for children to go into secondary schools. That depopulation is a concern for all advanced countries.

“It has to do with when a country moves from an agricultural society and starts to move up to industrialisation and mechanisation.” He said agricultural societies have high birth rates was because you needed people to work land, but with affluence agriculture plays a less important part, so families don’t have that amount of children to do work.

“Also – and this is not a negative, so don’t misinterpret what I am saying – as women join the labour force, as women take their rightful place in universities, they will either delay the choice to have a family or have smaller families.” He said that was a global phenomenon.

The covid19 virus as seen under a high-powered microscope. AP Photo

NEW COVID SUB VARIANT

Deyalsingh said the world now has a new covid19 subvariant, named GN1, a grandson of omicron BA26. “It is now accounting for about 20 per cent of the cases in the US. It is of little or no concern to us in TT for two reasons: One, we have not detected it as yet. Two, the science so far says it is not leading to any greater need for hospital space, mortality rates and so on. It is a concern in the northern hemisphere because it is winter time now. ” He said in winter people get sick more and also they congregate indoors. The virus could be in TT but has not been detected here, he said. “We have had no covid deaths in December and I think that still applies for November.”

Newsday asked if his ministry was screening for vision and hearing impediments in children, to head off possible contributory factors to youth delinquency.

NCRHA CEO Davlin Thomas fielded the question. “About a month or two ago we had a major back to school (screening). We did hearing, sight, etcetera, all the bugbears that might cause problems. We looked for them – and dental issues and so on – and we streamlined them for care immediately after. We do that about twice per year.

“About 25 per cent of the children coming tend to have either hearing or eyesight issues.” Some had dental issues.

“What we did was have these events that encouraged children to come. On the last occasion we had about 1,500 children. We tend to hold at least two of those a year. Basically about 25 per cent need some kind of intervention.”

Deyalsingh was asked about a UWI student who died mysteriously last week with her mother alleging demon possession.

He replied, “I have spoken to two psychiatrists and in their opinion there are interventions that could have been implemented to find out the root cause.

“That is why we launched Fine Care TT, which is a free directory of 30 services which people with issues like that can avail themselves of free of charge.

“There is so much stigma about mental issues that people may not admit, and I’m speaking generally now, not about that case. People may not admit – because of stigma and discrimination – that they need help.” He said even people diagnosed with diabetes might feel ashamed to tell their families.

Deyalsingh said rather than people being locked away in St Ann’s Psychiatric Hospital for years, mental health treatment was now decentralised to community level and patients have reported that this has helped them feel better.

“There was an old statistic may have some sort of mental health issue. We have to revisit that. We have to research globally to find out what the statistics are.”