Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh has commended the national response to the covid19 pandemic, saying the country has done everything possible to ensure the resilience of the health system.
Deyalsingh was speaking at the second virtual National Health Research Conference on Thursday.
“We have done reasonably well, I’d say better than many developed countries with significantly more resources than us,” he said.
Deyalsingh said as of the close of the financial year September 30, the government has spent $518.4 million in consumables, equipment, human resource, and infrastructure.
He said through the Gavi vaccine alliance, direct vendor purchase, and donations, the ministry has brought 1.9 million vaccine doses to TT and has administered 1.2 million, with over 305 contact points where people could access the vaccines at the height of the rollout.
“We have brought the national population our best and brightest minds…to explain and inform the public (and) to bring the science in a palatable manner – so people can make informed decisions about being vaccinated.”
He said the ministry has managed the healthcare system by staying true to the principals of universal and free access to healthcare in TT.
Deyalsingh said a resilient healthcare system calls for a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach and the government has done so by building local and regional alliances.
“I want to congratulate the UWI for being a staunch ally, not only in this pandemic, but prior. Any time I have called on the UWI to assist, guide and advise, you have been there.”
He said before the university was able to do genomic sequencing, anyone in the Caribbean states would have had to go to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, US. Now, it is being done locally.
He said the government has also partnered with regional colleagues to share knowledge and training.
“If nothing else, the pandemic has taught us the value of science, managing human resources and contributing to the sustainability of mental health.”
He said TT's parallel healthcare system has been constructive in protecting, isolating and insulating the regular healthcare system from being overwhelmed.
“TT does not understand how lucky we that are we instituted that. We are indeed fortunate to have these few facilities. This has been a major national tool in response to the pandemic.”
The parallel healthcare system, he said, comprises 17 facilities and institutions, 15 in Trinidad and two in Tobago, with an overall capacity of 1,100 beds spanning the whole spectrum of care.
The ministry has encountered some difficulties, he said, including detecting and screening for new variants, prevention and education, social media influence, vaccine hesitancy, and treatment and care for patients with long covid.
“We have to make sure (the healthcare system) continues to be resilient and make sure resources are not always diverted from elective surgeries and NCD clinics to treat unvaccinated individuals. But that is where we are.
“These are the decisions we make on a daily basis. We want our outpatient clinics to be back up to 100 per cent. We want our elective surgeries to be back up to 100 per cent. We want Granny to get her cataract surgery.
“How long can we maintain this situation of continually diverting resources into the parallel healthcare system?”
Deylasingh also said research is essential to improving the health and wellbeing of populations.
“As TT increases its capacity to conduct health research, it is imperative that research is conducted ethically so the wellbeing of those participating in research…can be protected and that institutions involved in the conduct of research assume their responsibility in ensuring that such research is ethical.”
He said the ministry’s response to covid19 was based on its understanding of using the latest research to transform the health sector with its minimal resources to respond to a pandemic that could have wiped out the entire population.
“Researchers commit to bringing the latest evidence research to the forefront (and) this was invaluable in our response to this global pandemic and building capacity that contributed to the health system’s resilience.”