Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh said his ministry recognises mental health as a non-communicable disease (NCD). NCDs are conditions which are not transmissible from one person to another.
Deyalsingh was speaking at the first annual National Health Research Conference on Thursday.
The virtual forum was a collaborative effort by the ministry, UWI's Faculty of Medical Sciences, the Tobago House of Assembly, regional health authorities (RHAs), the University of TT and the University of the Southern Caribbean.
Deyalsingh said the ministry is on the verge of appointing, for the first time in TT, an NCD tsar (policy co-ordinator) who will report to the minister and drive NCD research under a loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
“We have targeted mental health as an NCD. Mental health has to be seen as an NCD, and the IDB agrees,” he said.
He also said the ministry appointed a national director of mental health, Dr Hazel Othello, to help filter mental health services throughout the healthcare system.
The ministry has highlighted the effects of covid19 on mental health and said it will address mental health issues arising from the pandemic.
Deyalsingh also commended the organisers for including discussions on medical marijuana research in relation to cancer, adding that TT is on the cusp on legalising its use for this purpose.
He said the ministry has moved over the past five to six years from “one that is reactive to one that is proactive” by appointing heads of various departments to drive policy, collect data and do research.
He said the ministry also appointed a director of women’s and child’s health in 2017 and that led to research on TT’s paternal and infant mortality sustainability development goals for 2020, which he said was 12 years ahead of schedule.
He said the research showed 40 per cent of mothers in the public sector wait until the second or third trimester to seek antenatal care at public facilities.
Deyalsingh also highlighted other research submitted by the RHAs from January-September 2020 which showed 2,128 deaths related to NCDs, including heart disease at 48 per cent, diabetes at 22 per cent, cancer at 13 per cent and cerebrovascular disease at 17 per cent.
Deyalsingh said the ministry’s efforts to prevent and control NCDs are in alignment with the national strategic plan for NCDs for 2017-2021.
“This plan outlines the strategic direction and response to NCDs in TT and the strategic outcomes from partnerships with government, the private sector and civil society.”
He also said the NCD tsar will be responsible for examining the possibilities for genetic research.
The ministry has contracted Prof Surujpal Teelucksingh to launch a gestational diabetes programme which will test all mothers in the public and private health care system.
“Out of that will come genetic research to see what is happening genetically in our two major groupings: the Afro- and Indo-Trinidadian.”
Deyalsingh said there is some evidence to suggest the Indo-Trinidadian population is predisposed to diabetes and the Afro-Trinidadian population to hypertension.