Dr Alfred Dawes | A letter to my unborn child
By the time you can truly appreciate this letter, several years would have passed from this day of writing.
If you have not been one of the several thousand Jamaicans murdered, there is an 80 per cent chance that you are overweight or obese, so your health should be a priority. You will hear reminiscing about the good old days when healthcare was better, but presently, we are ill-equipped to address our own health needs. Each generation has their own health issues to overcome.
For your great grandparents, it was communicable diseases such as yaws, yellow fever, polio, and malaria. They were able to do so successfully. But in the early '70s, there was a shift in dietary recommendations and a proliferation of a new concept called fast food. This coupled with increased automation resulted in the genesis of the obesity epidemic that is now the greatest threat to my generation. The second threat we face in Jamaica also sprang from seeds sewn in the 1970s - violent crime.
By the time my parents grew up, there were less infectious diseases around because of improved public health and vaccination programmes. A united populace destroyed mosquito breeding sites and ensured their children were immunised. I compare their successes to our failures when the chikungunya virus swept through Jamaica on a tide of plastic waste and blocked drains. Nobody took personal responsibility and helped to clean up the mosquito breeding sites as their parents and grandparents before them did. And so we suffered the crippling consequences.
DYING FROM LIFESTYLE DISEASES
More Jamaicans are dying today from lifestyle diseases than any other cause, and I expect even greater numbers will be dying in your time if we continue on this present path. Sadly, we are not trying to change course.
Despite the Food and Agricultural Organization telling us more than 10 years ago that we were consuming 2,840 kcal/day when we only needed 2,000 kcal/day or less, we did not act decisively to address it. Since then, our obesity rates have grown at one per cent per year and with it the number of diabetic, hypertensive, and heart disease patients.
During that time, we welcomed the opening of more and more junk food restaurants and even gave them school cafeterias to operate. We bought processed foods and sugary drinks by the ton and complained that eating healthy was expensive.
We continued to tell our people that a low-fat diet was the way to lose weight, despite mountains of evidence that this was not so. We ignored the fact that 65 per cent of our calorie intake was from carbohydrates. We each consume on average two pounds of flour and one and a half lb of rice per week. We eat out more and crash diet even more.
Our culture has embraced food as a worldly pleasure to be enjoyed several times a day rather than a means of sustenance. And, of course, we move around less.
When the mirror told us we were on the wrong path, we changed the signage to celebrate fluffy, curvy, thick, BBW and even tried to change the definition of obesity. Even as we saw that we were where our Caribbean neighbours, The Bahamas and Barbados, were at 10 years ago, and we see their overweight and obesity rates at 80 per cent today, we continued marching.
TRAUMA IS TAKING A TOLL ON HOSPITAL RESOURCES AND STAFF
Last week, I was treating victims of what will probably be called the Grange Hill massacre. During that time, we could hardly treat other patients. There are howls of outrage, but they will be muted after the customary nine days. This is an all too common occurrence.
Trauma is taking a toll on hospital resources and staff. The media focuses on murders, but the number of shootings is rising even faster. We try to cut the murder rate one bullet hole at a time but unless organised crime is tackled, that is all we will have time to do while other patients sit on waiting benches.
I have, however, come to accept that crime will never be controlled.
As I write, there are politicians in Gordon House who rely on criminals to finance their political campaigns and mobilise voters. It is they who we expect to save us from the criminals. Citizens have given up on the police force and are afraid to tell them what they know lest it be shared with the underworld. But we ourselves are tainted.
Our society has legitimised corruption and called it 'links'. We have embraced criminals into polite society and called them businessmen, contractors, developers, area leaders, and political activists. We turn a blind eye to the source of funds when they patronise our businesses and protect them for their handouts.
We want the criminals to go to jail. But not our criminals. The ones who are holding the guns they can't afford. The ones caught in the shoot-out, not those financing the bullets. But they can't be eliminated because the inequalities inherent in our exploitative society create replacements at a faster rate than they can be eliminated.
Our healthcare sector cannot improve under these conditions and we must contend with only stemming crises as they develop.
It is the culture that we have created that has given us this broken society. We deserve what we have to face. But your generation does not. We selfishly willed our hardships to you.
And for this, I am truly sorry.