There are many unsung heroes in TT, institutions and people who would have given remarkable service to build the TT known today. In TT’s medical field there are many whose stories need to be told, Professor David Picou said to the group gathered at the Old Fire Station, corner Hart and Abercromby Streets on November 29.
Picou made the comments as he delivered the last lecture in the National Trust’s Timeline Lecture Series. The lecture looked at the impact of medicine in TT.
Addressing the audience, Picou said, “The UWI [University of the West Indies] in Jamaica they now have a museum in which they are having the whole history of the university. They are trying to put it together...The problem is some of the samples they have there aren’t very correct...
“There are very few of us around now. I am struggling to write a history of the early years. It is hard work...The Jamaica museum is a step in the right direction. Now the medical library here, I have donated a lot of material related to the Mount Hope Medical Complex...and a lot of photographs and so on. They have it in a special collection. That part is covered.
“The earlier part is the more important one. It is unfortunate because when we went there [then the University College of the West Indies] no buildings. We lived in huts in Gibraltar Hall.”
He said there was very little left at the UWI, Mona Campus, Jamaica reminiscent of the early years. He said even the old residences were being demolished and new ones constructed. Therefore, it was important, he said, to have a written history of what had happened.
During Picou’s presentation he highlighted the works of neonatologist Prof Zulaika Ali, gastroenterologist Prof Courtenay Bartholomew, surgeon Prof Vijay Narinesingh, bacteriologist Joseph Lennox Pawan, surgeon Joseph Henry Pierre, Dr Theodosius Ming-Whi Poon-King and parasitologist and entomologist Elisha Tickasingh. These medical professionals, like Pawan, known for his work on rabies, led to world-altering medical advances.
Ali, Picou said, set up and headed the first neonatal care unit in TT as well as developed UWI’s telehealth programme, which helps treat children with complex medical conditions. Bartholomew, he said, was responsible for diagnosing the first cases of Aids in the English-speaking Caribbean. Pierre was known for his pioneering surgical work, being the only surgeon at the time operating on tuberculosis patients. He was responsible for setting up lung surgery at Caura chest hospital.
Picou highlighted the works of institutions such as Trinidad Regional Virus Laboratory (TRVL), Carec (Caribbean Epidemiology Centre), the UWI’s Faculty of Medical Sciences and its Tropical Metabolism Research unit and the Caribbean Health Research Council saying these institutions made tremendous contributions to the development of TT’s and the wider Caribbean’s public health.
Picou did not mention the country’s Ministry of Health and when asked during the Q&A session about the role the Regional Health Authorities (RHAs) played in the country’s development, he said they did nothing and the RHAs were an old UK model which had been done away with.
Ali, who was a part of the audience, also thanked Picou for his contributions to the development of TT’s medical industry. Picou’s work on childhood malnutrition was sought by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). He was the head of the Tropical Metabolism Research Unit and headed the Task Force that developed the Mount Hope Medical Sciences Complex in Trinidad.