Establishing New Methods for a New World
By: Dr. Vishi Y. Beharry – President, T&TMA | December 8th, 2021
The Trinidad and Tobago Medical Association has a clear role in the movement to get as many people as possible vaccinated.
INTERVIEW – TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO MEDICAL ASSOCIATION (T&TMA)
Unprecedented. That is the only word to describe the past year for Trinidad and Tobago’s health sector, and indeed that of the wider world. A major spike in COVID-19 cases from April 2021 onwards has seen the Ministry of Health shift focus from implementing quarantine measures and lockdown procedures to instigating a parallel healthcare system to cope with an increase that has seen Trinidad and Tobago move from 123 cases in June 2020 to 43,344 – as of late August 2021.
The marked increase in COVID-19 infections sorely tested the nation’s medical capacity of 10 public hospitals, 10 private hospitals and 89 public health facilities. The establishment of two field hospitals at Port of Spain and Couva provided the necessary extra bed space and formed part of the proactive planning on the part of the sector. North Central Regional Health Authority CEO Davlin Thomas confirmed the overall forecasting strategy in dealing with the pandemic, to ensure that medical supplies were in place to accompany the increased bed space “We have been stockpiling. In the past, we did a lot of projections via our public health observatory. Based on that, we knew we had a good sense of what we would be dealing with, and we were stockpiling equal to that.” Manpower support has been provided by the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force, while industrial estates local to many of the patient centres have been providing essentials such as oxygen tanks.
While the medical sector has been performing above and beyond its remit – aided by volunteers such as dentists and veterinarians – the toll on the medical professionals and their support staff has been considerable. The Trinidad and Tobago Medical Association (T&TMA) has recognised the issue of the pressures facing its members, with new President Dr. Vishi Y. Beharry establishing a committee to help its members cope with the extraordinary stress levels due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Burnout has been a common factor across the globe; the medical association will address this with counselling and provide avenues for its members’ mental health.
Equally, the T&TMA has a clear role in the movement to get as many people as possible vaccinated, thereby creating the herd immunity to allow the country to reopen “We can provide the support of going into the communities to the patients who cannot go to the health centres. Just as we did the outreach after the 2018 floods, providing medical care to affected persons through simultaneous clinics in multiple areas, we’re going to use that model and partner with the Ministry (of Health).” The association has also disseminated information to the public as an education campaign designed to curb vaccine hesitancy.
The burden upon the medical sector will continue in the coming year but Beharry knows that it must continue to evolve, perhaps even more so because of the virus, instead of being hindered by it. “Medicine is an ever-changing world with new research, evidence, and evidence-based medicine. It is important for doctors to update themselves, so they are giving patients the best care available.”
Through the traditional methods of mentorship of junior doctors and new approaches such as virtual conferences, the sector continues to arm itself for the year ahead and its role in protecting the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago at this unprecedented time.
Establishing practices for new essentials, such as the enactment of field hospitals to cope with pandemic patients, put the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA) at the forefront once again to ensure that global standards are met, even throughout the pressures of a medical emergency. The agency has met the challenge while still undertaking its duties across the sectors that are deemed essential services, such as the oil industry.
The new normal of working from home has also forced a change in thinking for the risks associated with the base of working virtually, a factor that will require careful and intricate consideration over the coming year. The Chamber of Industry and Commerce of Trinidad and Tobago recognised as much, stating ‘Work from home was once a privilege but now it is the standard. We need to look at the risks and opportunities of work from home. Employers still have a duty of care even with work-from-home arrangements. OSHA Trinidad has outlined reasonable steps as a guide when it comes to risk assessments.’
The pandemic forced the proliferation of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) across all sectors.
The Trinidad and Tobago Bureau of Standards (TTBS) fulfilled its essential role of not only ensuring that PPE products met the minimum requirements, but also offered, where relevant, advice on the proper usage, fit, or application. Further, the Bureau’s laboratories are equipped to test both prototypes and existing PPE products as well as the disinfectants, cleaning products and sanitizers that have become part of the new normal.
To minimise physical human contact while they carry out these crucial supportive tasks, many of the Bureau’s processes such as applications, testing, assessment, certification, customer complaints and payments have moved to their vastly expanded online platforms, with portals enabling the TTBS to carry out its tasks throughout the pandemic period but also easing the usage and improving the efficiency for the immediate future and long term.