Over the last several years, but increasingly over the last two weeks, I have been reading with concern, alarm even, a number of articles about matters medical in the press and comments made in response to these articles by members of the public.
Seldom can so much have been said by so many about something they know so little. I am referring to the events which seemingly have captivated the public since before Easter and aroused passions to the point that I fully expect to soon see graphic pictures of abused dead women and children on the local mauvais langue TV programme that daily abuses the police and, in the past, retarded children. Unfortunately for them, because they have so much to offer, the Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development was involved in both of these events: the Cheryl Miller affair and the death of two-year-old Aaliyah Johnson. To further titillate public opinion there has seemingly been an increase in reports of sexual abuse of children of various ages by a variety of males of various sizes and ages, from an 87-year-old pensioner accused of sexually assaulting a nine-year-old girl to a 50-year-old man charged with buggering four boys aged five, 13, 14 and 16, who himself is accused of committing an act of “serious indecency” on the five-year-old.
In the Miller affair, serious objection was taken by her co-workers to the way she was treated at her workplace and if one is to believe them, her rights as a person were grossly disrespected. Despite protestations from the doctors involved in her care at St Ann’s Hospital, the press seemed to believe all that they claimed as well as the pseudo-medical comments from a trade union leader and two opposition politicians, one a medical doctor who initially stepped out of his crease to voop, but like the West Indian batsmen in Barbados, quickly retreated to the safety of the pavilion. To me the real story here was that the real story was not being told. Something was missing. In the midst of all the calamitous events we were told had happened, images of people being dragged away and shut up in jailed vans and hospital rooms and given iniquitous drugs and so on, the impression being given by the press, something did not add up. This is Trinidad. With all our faults, we do not yet have a history of committing people to St Ann’s at the drop of a hat. To the contrary. There seem to be lots of people on the street who would be better off in the “mad house.” It may yet turn out that Ms Miller was committed wrongly. That remains to be decided. Even so, as Dr Steve Smith has pointed out, if a ministry employee had had a heart attack in his workplace and was immediately treated there and then hospitalised, everyone from the minister down would have been congratulated. Psychiatric disease however is still poorly understood in T&T, perhaps because it touches so close to all of us. For whatever reason, the press, while admirably trying to do their job, did not report the matter from both sides.
The people from the ministry are legally unable to give their side of the story but, at the time of writing, I have yet to see a prominent interview with an independent psychiatrist over the handling of the matter. Yet we daily heard from the trade union man with his views on medication for the ill as well as the posturing of the other opposition politician, the lawyer one, on a matter where the opinion of the medical profession was paramount. The second matter was the unbelievable question asked of the public last week in Newsday, presumably in response to the continuing wave of abuse to children. The question was: “Do you think the Children Authority is effective?” It is unbelievable because Newsday must know or should know that the Children Authority is not set up as yet. How can the Children Authority be effective if there is no Children Authority? If Newsday and any other media do not know that the Children Authority is not functioning, then they are again not doing their job. A simple phone call to the Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development would have told them what is the position. The responses to the question demonstrated that most people are also confused about the status of the Children Authority. Why the authority is not yet set up to do its duty, ie, protect the children of T&T, despite protestations of the present PM, who personally focused on children’s issues during the election campaign and committed herself to development of a decree on child protection, is another story and one that the press should be following. It is good that people are concerned about these public acts and write in to the press to comment and complain. Maybe people are now sufficiently sensitised so that we can begin to act after years of futile complaining. Comments, however, must be guided by accurate knowledge and it is here that the press has let us down.