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Fake health?

Published: 
Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Apparently, if you believe the 2017 Budget, there is no Minister of Health in T&T. This is surprising. The present Minister has made some progress in the past two years. Item, his campaign against fast foods, small as it is, and limited to sweet drinks in schools.

There does seem to be a Ministry of Health. It was allocated $6.02 billion. But, search high, search low, I could find nothing else about health. Sure, there were hints. Government seems to have the “hots” for “hospitals”. They intend on building hospitals. Soon we will have a “hospital” for every community. Diego Martin hospital; Queen Street hospital (sorry, Queen Janelle “Penny” Commissiong hospital); Barataria hospital; San Juan hospital; El Dorado hospital; Chaguanas hospital; Barrackpore hospital; Cedros hospital; Mayaro hospital. Endless “hospital”, with six bed and a non-functioning x-ray machine, staffed no doubt by Venezuelans running from the socialist paradise next door.

Meanwhile the “private hospitals” going to get properly taxed for the first time since 1960 and the immediate and politically incorrect response of the owners is “the public go have to pay for that”. How stupid is arrogance? They just made the Minister of Finance look good. You know how difficult that is to do?

That is it. No summary of where we are in health. Number of hospital beds in the country? Health Centre plans for increased opening hours? What our needs are? Areas of deficiency? Excuses? Explanations? Apologies? No plan, no direction. Just we building more public hospital, for the “poor” people and we taxing the private ones we have, for the “rich” people. Yet the closed Couva “Children’s” Hospital costs us TT$430 million a year”. But we building more. This is insane.

I had expected to hear more about this Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD) programme that keeps popping up in the papers. You know, the one where they say we eating too much fast food from foreign which is making us sicker and poorer? According to the Ministry of Health Rapid Assessment of the Economic Dimensions of Non-communicable Diseases in Trinidad and Tobago, conducted by the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) Trinidad and Tobago, the economic burden from diabetes, hypertension and cancer to TT is about TT$8.7 billion annually.

That’s a lot of money and in July this year was estimated by the Ministry of Health to represent five per cent of GDP. Priority # 1.3 of this National Strategic Plan for Prevention and Control of NCDs is: “increase availability, accessibility and consumption of healthy foods” and it is estimated that a 50 per cent reduction in diabetes and hypertension, achieved through “sustained prevention interventions” can result in savings of “almost TT$2 billion in just labour productivity”.

Of course these savings will not begin to happen for many years, not until the present children become adults and for that you have to stop them pigging away on fried chicken, potato chips and juice.

According to the Budget, over the period 2003 to 2016, our food import bill was an estimated US$8.91 billion, TT$56.9 billion or around TT$4 billion a year. How much of that goes to the fast food companies is apparently a secret. What measures are being taken to reduce that bill, especially now that foreign exchange is scarce? Yet food companies have no difficulty in obtaining foreign currency whilst the ordinary citizen has difficulty obtaining US$ for sophisticated medical treatment abroad.

On Saturday, October 7, the ever redoubtable Gail Alexander published an article on a speech given by President Carmona’s wife at the United Nations this year. “T&T should strive for food labelling legislation and allow tax breaks on healthy food imports with higher taxes placed on the unhealthy options,” loudly declared Mrs Carmona. Well done, Madame.

Cut down our food import bill. Save foreign exchange. Tax fast food. Subsidise farmers to produce cheap, healthy food. Surely these must all be part of your NCD programme? Not just stopping sweet drink inside the school.