Health Ministry the biggest mess in T&T


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Category: Health 29 Aug 10

The Ministry of Health is the biggest mess in this country. It has been for decades. Call it NWRHA, RHA, Health Centres, hospitals, whatever you want. No amount of restructuring has changed that. The mismanagement, red tape combined with lack of checks and balances in that Ministry is enough to kill anybody. Sadly, it does. Repeatedly. No wonder we are way behind Cuba in our health services. Way below Barbados on the UN Development Index. This, despite our oil wealth. Clearly being an open economy hasn’t served us; neither has oil as countries without these advantages are ahead of us. Sadly, there is little recourse for ill or dying patients, few explanations for grieving families, no compensation, no questions answered. Case closed. The ill people of this country depending on the health services are defenseless against state negligence.


The latest victim was an 18-year-old boy who died of dengue last week. The Guardian reported that Andrew Siewlall, an A level student was taken to the Couva Health Facility “complaining of pain and fever”. The teenager was sent home with panadol after they did a blood test which came back negative for dengue. He was told to come back on Thursday. (A friend of mine had the opposite happen to her. Her blood test came back positive. She panicked. Oddly, her fever subsided. She got better. She was puzzled. She went back to be told that her blood test was mixed up with somebody else. The person who actually had dengue got the negative result. She never had dengue in the first place. Somebody else did, and that person went home with a negative result.


Let’s pick up the tragic story of young Andrews fateful encounter with our public health services again (gleaned from Sacha Wilsons report in last Wednesdays Guardian. The Panadol didn’t help. Andrew got worse.  His parents took him back to the Couva Health facility on Thursday morning. But on that day, “the machine broke down.” On his return from the health facility Andrew fainted. An ambulance took him back to the health centre. There, the “unconscious” Andrew and his parents waited for hours for medical attention. Medical personal told his anxious family that “it was not a serious case”. Finally, when Andrews’s mother unable to take the sight of her limp, feverish son anymore “made some noise” he was put on drips. In the afternoon Andrew was deemed to be serious enough to be shuttled to the San Fernando hospital by ambulance.


Waiting for eleven hours

He sat there in the waiting room propped up by his parents presumably from four in the afternoon, drifting in and out of consciousness waiting for a bed for eleven hours. At three am the next day, he finally got a bed in the Intensive Care Unit. His aunt said “He could not do anything for himself. He was calling his mother all night to help him.” By eight am the following morning, Andrew was dead in the San Fernando Hospital. It amazed me then that the story went on to say that the South West Regional Health Authority claimed that “preliminary reports” have indicated that all dengue clinical protocols were adhered to. (sic). What did they “adhere to”? The Guardian report suggests otherwise. Firstly, the dengue test came back negative. Since the child died from it clearly the test was faulty, the diagnosis wrong.


Secondly, the machine was not working. Thirdly a very ill teenage boy, feverish and drifting in and out of consciousness was made to wait in a waiting room for almost eleven hours. Last Sunday on CNC3, Dr Avery Hinds, Medical Epidemiologist, National Surveillance Unit, Ministry of Health revealed that dengue is now an epidemic in Trinidad and Tobago. There are over 1000 confirmed cases of dengue in this country. I was shocked while conducting the interview. I am not the only one. Former senator Diana Mahabir Wyatt wrote in to me questioning this figure. “Are there really 1000 cases of dengue, though? That’s almost one in every 120 people in T&T. Why are the schools opening?”


In the last press conference held by the Ministry of Health in July the Chief Medical Officer Dr Anton Cumberbatch said that there were some 600 cases of dengue in this country and the rate of new infections was “consistent with outbreak proportions”. He also said that 400 cases were reported between January and June. But just three weeks into July that number had risen to 600. At that time Dr Cumerbatch said the number didn’t take into account those diagnosed in private institutions so I assume the figures could be double that.


Dramatic rise?

Surely that’s a dramatic rise? Surely they saw the epidemic coming? And when it BECAME an epidemic surely the Ministry of Health should have held a press conference to tell the people of this country that we are all in a high risk situation. Independent and private doctors have said they didn’t think the spraying programme was working, or that the public education was working. The situation could be spiralling out of control. It’s time the Minister of Health Therese Baptiste-Cornelis steps in and ‘makes some noise’ on behalf of a country at risk and in the memory of those who have died of dengue.


Andrew Siewlall was only 18. He wanted to be an engineer. He was a child of this country and a beloved son of a mother and father. Every parent must feel heartbroken for him and his family. It could have happened to any of our children. While we await the results of the “investigation” we say this: It must not happen again. If it does, it is no longer negligence but systematic murder by the state.



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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur