Dear Doctor Roshan Parasram (Chief Medical Officer)
CC Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh
I write this open letter–a plea to you on behalf of three of this nations' senior physicians–private practitioners who, along with thousands of health professionals including nurses and pharmacists were watching with growing horror at the spike in cases, a spike in deaths ripping through families, and alarmingly through frontline workers.
We know of COVID infected patients dying in tents, on their way to overwhelmed government health facilities, of the new phenomenon of intrafamily spread as it's challenging to quarantine at home without spreading the disease. They say they are receiving reports of more dying at home than recorded because they are terrified that if they test positive, they become the Government's property.
If CARPHA has a COVID positive test in your (or anybody's) name, they have the authority to send police to your home, either to take you away to a state institution or make sure you are home. We've seen the men in hazmat suits arrive throughout the country and carry people off in a stretcher. It is illegal for a private institution to manage a COVID case.
Managing COVID-19 requires more than state control.
Do you remember how you felt this time last year? Then, you were a rising star, an unlikely but sincere a-political hero who defeated COVID.
How lucky we are, we thought, looking with horror and pity at the body bags, the men in hazmat suits, the mass graves across the globe.
You followed the science. Your colleagues in the Ministry of Health, led by the Minister, kept our little fight against random cases tight and sealed. The politicians were the gatekeepers. Your cadre of super COVID fighters made up of doctors and nurses in the public hospitals, all of whom were required to sign a strict confidentiality document. That some were exhausted, and others were inexperienced was not the point. The war room was bolted.
It was closed to thousands of doctors in private practice who, between them, have six or eight thousand years of specialised and general medical experience; closed to the thousands of private nurses, and pharmacists; closed to private hospitals and nursing homes; closed to the private sector, prepared to bring in the vaccines.
Your reinforced COVID war room from which information is scarce opened tentatively to allow in a few private labs to do testing when it was clear that CARPHA wasn't doing the trick–and slammed shut.
This closed war room was acceptable when there were just a few cases. But when the disease overwhelmed our health system with a cruel immutable quickness just as it does our bodies, we must have known that every living human is a soldier in this war against COVID.
A closed war room does not win a war that is being fought in every corner, every parlour, in every home, in every cell of citizens.
When in battle, we can't stop to argue amidst ourselves as to who was responsible for the weak defence, the deaths–close to 25,000 cases, up to 556 deaths, among the worst per capita globally. Let's agree that yes, that 'all of we' responsible in different ways. Rallies, marches, vigils, limes, weddings, prayers, funerals, sports. Every man and woman a COVID sinner. Right now, with so many dead, many dying en route to the hospitals, many struggling to live at home, like a grim echo of death globally, we don’t have the luxury to punish and blame.
Look what this disease has done to us, dear doctor. Things were tough before COVID-19, with high homicides and falling oil and gas prices, but we didn't know what tough was until this disease engulfed us, forcing us to close borders, close businesses, leave people struggling to live, struggling to die, to pay rent, to feed themselves and their families, educate their children. It's exposed old vulnerabilities, our refusal to digitise, for instance, leave pensioners mingling helplessly in long queues, spreading the disease.
Doctors agree with the Government that the only way out is to vaccinate 70 per cent of us to achieve herd immunity. But at the current rate of a thousand vaccines a day, skipping weekends and public holidays, it may take six years, or more to achieve herd immunity.
You are not alone, Doctor Parasram. Last week, neighbour Barbados recorded no cases, no deaths. Let's take their cue to vaccinate ourselves out of this.
We are about two per cent fully vaccinated, one of the lowest in the world. But at least nine per cent of people have received their first shot. The WhatsApp system is chaotic.
Now that more vaccines are in the pipeline activate the private sector.
The initial vaccines have been mopped up by those who believe in them, but doctors worry the uptake will get harder and harder.
To vaccinate over 70 per cent of us before the 'mother of all carnivals' promised next year by the AG, and more importantly, so we don't go down the route of the economic devastation of Venezuela, at least 4-5,000 people need to be vaccinated daily.
Doctors are here, qualified, overqualified, to help. Many, if not all, will vaccinate the population for free. They say if diabetics regularly inject themselves, it is not hard to vaccinate people. They recommend the following:
A) Give every willing doctor vaccines countrywide to administer to patients with the stipulation they are not to charge their patient for the vaccine countrywide. If 4,000 people are vaccinated daily, we will be able to achieve 120,000 a month and 720,000 in six months.
B) Allow private hospitals and labs to treat and test COVID-19 patients.
C) The Government needs to start a mass health campaign to counter vaccine hesitancy. Again, doctors who already have the trust of their patient will have a great reach, especially amongst those who are unsure, who will delay herd immunity and return to economic activity.
D) Create 24-hour seven days a week vaccination centres with the help of private volunteer nurses, pharmacists, both working and retired. This nonsense of ''No vaccinations on a Sunday or a public holiday'' must stop.
The enemy has advanced. Your reinforcements stand ready to serve.
Yours sincerely, Ira Mathur on behalf of three senior physicians in T&T.