A fighting chance against covid19

Paolo Kernahan -
Paolo Kernahan -

NOT surprisingly the numbers of covid19 infections and deaths continue their inexorable climb. The reimposition of some restrictions and legally mandated mask-wearing may not suppress that trajectory.

Back in April when it became clear how menacing the contagion is, this column repeatedly harped on the need for an aggressive public education campaign to prod behavioural change. The suggested education juggernaut never happened. That in itself isn't a shocker given the insistence of the Government and its teat-tugging supporters that regular news conferences were more than enough to achieve behavioural change.

Evidence to the contrary, such as the giddy-up gaiety at bars and posh poolside shenanigans, is dismissed as “Trinis too haaden!” or the one per cent loyalty card and its bottomless benefits.

Now that we're immersed in the inevitability of this virus, the air hangs heavy with the unknown. How long can we endure this way? There is another consideration, perhaps missed by many people. For those who've lost loved ones to this remorseless disease, my heart grieves for you. Still, death isn't the only toll levied by covid19.

For the most part, the statistics only track three cohorts: people who've been infected, those who recovered and went home, and those who didn't. The story we aren't told is the potential for long-term debilitating effects of the virus after recovery.

Covid19 can leave victims with a quality of life made poorer by lingering health troubles. There are several stories of patients suffering persistent mobility issues, shortness of breath, joint ache, frequent headaches and fatigue. Worse still, even a mild brush with the coronavirus has, in some cases, caused damage to the heart muscles, lungs and even the brain.

This is why, running parallel to an aggressive covid19 public education campaign (which we aren't doing), there should be a general health awareness campaign. Masks, social distancing and proper hygiene are crucial, but they don't make us impervious to infection. We should also get ourselves in the best possible health to put up a fight against covid19 were we to become infected.

This is important because, by most standards, we are a sickly people. I wrote some time ago that there are an estimated 200,000 people “living” with diabetes in TT. We rank third in the world for deaths from this lifestyle disease. Twenty-six per cent of the population are stricken with hypertension. A 2019 PAHO/WHO report puts obesity in the TT population at around 31 per cent.

Many citizens are, in health terms, a wooden house encircled by a forest fire. Our hospital hallways are clogged, like the arteries of our hearts, with citizenry carrying the trifecta of sugar, pressure, and heart troubles. Our sedentary, fast-food-powered lifestyles are killing us. It's unreasonable to ask your stressed body to put up a defence against covid19 when your health is in shambles.

So it's not just about avoiding covid19. It's about preparing ourselves to fend off the worst of its lasting effects. For the Ministry of Health, this is a great opportunity to passionately advocate for the immediate quitting of smoking among all puffers out there.

Covid19 preys heavily on those with respiratory weaknesses – conditions known to be caused by smoking. Seeing so many people with their masks pulled down to smoke a cigarette seems a bit nonsensical, and this is coming from a former smoker. While TT has done remarkably well with tobacco control legislation, a 2011 PAHO report puts the number of adult smokers at roughly 38 per cent.

A public education campaign on the dangers of smoking in the context of the pandemic is timely. Additionally, citizens should be encouraged to reduce their consumption of processed foods and fast foods. These products, while designed to make our on-the-go lives easier, render them harder in the long run with the ill health they can cause.

Look, we all know what we should be doing for good health. It's not that people have an inbuilt death wish. Life can be tough and each of us, in our own way, gravitates toward the simple pleasures that smooth the edges. There's a reason the term “comfort food” isn't applied to salads and steamed vegetables.

Behavioural change, though, requires consistent nudging for people to do the right thing; the thing that will help protect their health. Proper diet, regular exercise, enough sleep, these should be part of our covid19 health protocols.

Running parallel with a nationwide coronavirus education campaign, there should be a general health and wellness campaign to help us all boost our defence against this pandemic.


"A fighting chance against covid19"

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