HEALTH AND SAFETY, ENVIRONMENT AND STANDARDS
September 19th, 2021
Establishing New Methods for a New World
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.
INTERVIEW – IAMOVEMENT
The Environmental Management Authority (EMA) has been able to maintain its duties throughout the lockdowns, through a mixture of essential workers and virtual working. As such, it has been able to maintain many services including the recycling programme iCARE.
Behavioural change towards more environmentally friendly practice is also at the forefront of the efforts of another Government agency Solid Waste Management Company (SWMCOL). The company is pursuing legislative action for a Beverage Containers bill, to curb the massive plastic bottle pollution problem. CEO Kevin Thompson sees both the resultant change towards greater recycling as well as the economic benefit, “At SWMCOL, we are doing work on developing position papers on different waste streams.
All waste streams create opportunities to have less waste in the landfill. The legislation provides that framework for the other persons who may not be so voluntarily minded or environmentally sensitive about the damage that is being done to the environment. And (with funds gained from recycling plastics for sale) you give them another reason to participate.” SWMCOL saw a reduction in its plastic recycling process in the past year, with COVID-19 forcing two of its three sites to close, but it still processed 335 tonnes of plastic for export and resale.
There is also a big push for environmentally friendly practice towards creating 21st-century revenue streams from the private sector, spearheaded by NGOs such as IAMovement. Nature-loving brothers Jonathan and Daniel Barcant created the group of young, environmentally conscious Trinbagonians in 2014 to raise awareness but it has now developed into a platform for climate mitigation and reduction of costs to power the nation. IAMovement states that if Trinidad and Tobago were to wholeheartedly embrace getting its own energy from renewable sources, the benefits would resonate throughout various trickle-down factors. Jonathan Barcant says “The country is spending money on energy which could be saved and invested in other industries – especially in the midst of a move toward diversifying the economy of Trinidad and Tobago. Every dollar of natural gas or barrel of oil not consumed locally could benefit the country by selling it overseas or sending it to the refinery in Point Lisas to generate more revenue and create jobs through petrochemical products. It is win-win.”
With almost 50 nationwide Climate Talk events and utilising the trend towards online learning through the establishment of their REThinking Energy portal, IAMovement is hoping to disrupt the status quo and create meaningful change in both the way the country treats its bountiful environment and utilising it towards economic benefit.
Article by: Sheldon Waithe