PHYSICIAN and surgeon Dr Rai Ragbir has sounded an alarm about morbidity and mortality among citizens owing to the shortage of foreign exchange, inundation of undetected and untreated diseased Venezuelans, plus a rigorous suitcase trade in counterfeit drugs.
Speaking at the United National Congress (UNC) community outreach health clinic at the Southern Marines panyard, Marabella, on Palm Sunday morning, Ragbir said there is a drug shortage in both the public and private sector.
“They are not on the pharmacy shelves. Medicine is a business and business people who import pharmaceuticals are not getting foreign exchange, so there is a shortage of medicine.
“In addition, there are a lot of suitcase traders for pharmaceuticals. That means we have a lot of counterfeit medicine and patients using those counterfeit medications are not getting better.
“So you have an increase in morbidity – that means more illness – and an increase in mortality, which means more death. So we have a serious condition in TT.”
He said this situation is compounded by the non-functioning arm of the Food and Drug Division of the Ministry of Health.
“They have no reagents to test any kind of pharmaceuticals coming into the country, even agricultural chemicals or veterinary medicines. So we are in trouble in this country and that is compounded by what is happening at our border. Our borders are so porous that people are coming in with all kinds of infectious diseases for which we are not testing. Every day we see something about this in the media – malaria, tuberculosis, yellow fever, dengue, you name it –but who is testing?”
He said there should be a clinical assessment for the Venezuelans, especially since they are being granted amnesty to live and work in the country.
“Because no one knows what they have come with, and interacting with citizens, especially children, could put the entire population at risk.”
The population, he argued, is going to be faced with "more and more chronic and non-chronic diseases, to the detriment of the health and well-being of TT.
"The onus is on the health ministry to have the chemicals, reagents and manpower to test these people. If you don’t test them, our health sector will collapse.”
He said already regional health authorities are already burdened, pointing to the San Fernando General Hospital, which he said was already overwhelmed with an increase in patients, shortage of bed space and human resources, long before the Venezuelan crisis.
Former medical director at the SFGH Dr Stephen Ramroop said UNC doctors have been working with the Living Water Community to assist the Venezuelans, “who have serious problems, to get free medical assistance.”
Senator Taharqua Obika, who was also at the health clinic, said Marabella was chosen because of the challenge for residents to get medical assistance since the closure of the Augustus Long Hospital.
Obika said in the first 90 minutes the clinic was open, it would have seen over 100 patients, who were tested and treated for high blood pressure and diabetes, among other ailments. Ramroop said some patients were given medication or prescriptions, as well as referral letters to the health centres and hospital.