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Old fogies

Published: 
Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Having written critically about the harm the SEA exam is doing to our children and the lack of a family-oriented paediatric service in the PICU at EWMSC, it was gratifying to have two positive experiences last week. On Monday I was shown, by a new mother, a notification titled, “Kids Get Warm Welcome at Mt Hope Women’s Hospital: New mothers can welcome their entire home at their bedside to meet the newest member of their family!” That’s a move in the right direction. Congratulations to the staff.

On Friday a child came in needing referral to an eye specialist. Parents were having some problems getting the referral at the Health Centre. Two phone calls later, problem solved, the system worked and hopefully by today the child will be on the way to recovery. Congrats to my two colleagues who assisted. They know who they are.

So, despite the best efforts of incompetent, racially motivated politicians moving around in escorted cars and helicopters while the rest of us fight up with the traffic on land, sea and air, we have some commendable things going on.

My friends, old fogies all, beg to differ. Through their rum or nowadays, whiskey-tinted spectacles, they affirm that things were better in the forties, fifties and sixties. Not only in T&T. World was healthier, less epidemics, less wars, less violence, they like to say. People were happier.

Some of them like to wax poetic about life in ancient agricultural societies and speechify about the pleasures of the simple life, when women knew their place, no doubt on their backs.

Some statistics seem in order. In the late twentieth century life expectancy doubled, from 40 to70-plus. Most of this is because we have virtually eliminated premature death ie death from childhood infectious diseases. In the so-called “golden age” of the fifties, children in T&T were dying in droves from malaria, typhoid fever, gastro, diphtheria and polio. I saw children with tetanus and whooping cough on the paediatric wards at Port-of-Spain Hospital as late as 1980. There were few premature babies around to increase the ranks of the disabled. Most died. I have figures from the Prem Unit at POSGH from the 70’s.

Fifty per cent mortality in 1979. Death was so common grieving parents were comforted, “You could make ah nex one!” Sex, the second great island reliever.

Now a child’s death is an automatic cause for a lawsuit or investigation.

These days, less than five per cent of children die before reaching adulthood. In the developed world the rate is under one per cent. Vaccinations, antibiotics, improved hygiene and a better medical infrastructure are the reasons. Not diet as so many people think. Smallpox has been eradicated.

You can estimate the age of people by checking for the smallpox scar on their arms. If it’s there, they were born before 1979, the last year when smallpox vaccination was given anywhere in the world. If it were not for some radical, fundamentalist Muslim groups in Nigeria and Afghanistan and a corrupt, communist regime in Venezuela, we would be close to doing the same thing for measles and polio.

Poverty was endemic in the fifties; starving, marasmus were common on the wards. Today the problem is overweight. In 2010 famine and malnutrition combined killed about one million people, whereas obesity killed three million. In 2014 more than two billion people were overweight compared to 850 million who suffered from malnutrition. Half of mankind is expected to be overweight by 2013. One third of Trinidadians is overweight already.

People say there’s too much violence? In 2010 obesity and related illnesses killed about three million people, terrorists killed a total of 7,697. For the average Trinidadian, Milo poses a far deadlier threat than ISIS.

What’s the problem then? Not only old fogies with warped memories but expectations. It took little to make someone happy 70 years ago. How do you bring joy today, to bored, overpaid and overweight people who believe they are entitled?

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