By Raffique Shah
August 01, 2021
Fact: an overwhelming majority of the 1,000-plus victims of Covid-19 who died of the highly contagious virus were also stricken with non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as heart diseases, diabetes, renal conditions and other preventable ailments.
I do not have the precise numbers of such cases since the Ministry of Health has a policy of not disclosing details of patients in its system. But I think I can safely say that based on the frequency with which “co-morbidities” has been attached to the profiles of the deceased, some 80 per cent fell in that category.
Question: if those victims had not been afflicted with the aforementioned NCDs, might they have survived the killer virus? The simple answer to that question is we shall never know for sure. Surely, though, because the said co-morbidities have been a common denominator in many, probably most Covid-related deaths across the world, had the infected persons been healthier, stronger, fitter, they most likely would have survived the attack.
That’s the point I was advancing when I ran out of column space last week. Many of my friends and marathon acquaintances are doing that today, having lived healthy lives for decades, adding proper eating habits to the right exercise programmes. In fact, so confident are such people in themselves and their lifestyles, my doctor asks, not rhetorically: why can’t human beings live to 120 or 150 years? Incidentally, life expectancy at birth in T&T today is estimated at 73.4 years, according to the UNDP human development report, 2019.
I am not making a case for life everlasting or some such foolishness, not when so many young people, some mere children, are dying in unnatural ways. The heart-rending screams of those three children who perished in a fire at their home in Maraval last week will haunt those who heard them for the rest of their lives. Realistically, we’ll all die one day. I have often said that death is not a problem. But dying could be an extended, painful exercise.
Still, the Covid-19 pandemic, its death-toll having crossed four million, should sober up those of us who still enjoy the gift of life into cherishing every moment we breathe, and remind us that we have a responsibility to protect fellow human beings whose paths cross with ours by accident or design.
Which brings me back to where this circle began, where it might end: to vaccinate or not? I did it not so much for my own life, which, you will have read, is on a shaky foundation—quite literally. No. I think about other people, especially children who have not even started living, but whose lives are under threat of premature termination by irresponsible adults for whom self comes first, second and third, who care nothing about other human beings, not even their children.
Besides summoning the humaneness in man, Covid-19 has put centre-stage for all of us the way we live, what we can change in our lifestyles to positively impact all citizens’ lives. This country has spent billions of dollars on improving our health services. On average we spend approximately TT$10 billion per year on delivering healthcare services that are free of charge to all citizens. Yet, there is a tsunami of complaints about the facilities, services provided, lack of pharmaceuticals, waiting time, and other ills related to the public healthcare system. Parallel to this stagnation is the near-exponential growth of private sector health facilities. I have no estimate of what is spent on this alternative system that so many people use as their first choice, but I shan’t be surprised if it exceeds the public sector annual spend.
Bear in mind several hospitals and other healthcare facilities have been constructed recently, or are under construction currently at great cost to taxpayers. Pharmacies are mushrooming across the country as if in competition with fast-food restaurants and street-food stalls, their owners anticipating an expanding population of very sick people, off whom they can make more money.
While there is talk of preventive medicine, I do not see evidence of sustained campaigns that steer people towards healthy lifestyles, especially eating and drinking healthier, and exercising regularly, which could save us billions of dollars and much pain and grief.
This country has among the highest rates in the world of chronic diseases caused by smoking cigarettes, abusing alcohol, daily consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages as well as oil-saturated foods. Fried-everything form the core of our daily diets. People clamour for their fats-laden doubles, pies, delicacies, and government all but serves up the death-dealing concoctions. Children refuse to eat nutritious meals funded by taxpayers and we turn our faces and pretend that we do not see that wastage, even as thousands more go hungry.
The answers, my friends, are there for all to see—except the blind who lead us past temptation to drown us in a sea of stupidity. Amen.