COVID-19 Reflections While Staying Home: The Housework

The quote from Simone de Beauvoir did it for me with this blog: “Few tasks are more like the torture of Sisyphus than housework, with its endless repetition: the clean becomes soiled, the soiled is made clean, over and over, day after day”. In a time of COVID-19, housework is like salvation, a soothing balm to irritated nerves and as ‘Petchary’ rightly concludes, one of the distractions to which many among us hold in the bid to cope.

Petchary's Blog

I have been writing some rather serious pieces lately about COVID-19 – including an ongoing series on my small blog, which is tucked away on the Jamaica Gleaner website. I have written about COVID and environmental pollution, COVID and water issues, COVID and vulnerable Jamaicans (starting with those living with HIV/AIDS). There is more to come.

This miserable virus has taken over our lives, hasn’t it? Meanwhile, on the home front the atmosphere has changed. Here’s another, “lighter” side to the dreaded coronavirus…

I’m in love with a Shark.

Well, not unusual for a lover of our environment, you might say. But this Shark is an inanimate object, although quite an alluring one. It is made mostly of plastic (not environmentally friendly). It makes a not unpleasant whirring noise, with little rattles when it picks up something particularly interesting. It has lights on the front, so you can see…

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COVID-19 in Jamaica: We Knew What We Were Up Against

A good perspective on the journey up to now with COVID-19 in Jamaica. From the get go, the Ministry of Health and Wellness has cautioned the country about the probability of a surge and flooded the media, new and traditional, with key messages for infection prevention and control. All the while, the country was told, in no uncertain terms, that there will be new and emergent information on the virus with which we must all contend, but that together we can overcome. #EverybodyCounts #BeatCOVID19.

Petchary's Blog

On Tuesday, March 10, 2020, I attended a Media Breakfast at Kingston’s Knutsford Court Hotel on COVID-19. The aim of this session hosted by the Ministry of Health and Wellness was to explain and update the media on the Ministry’s response plan to COVID-19. It was also, by the way, the last public event I attended. I canceled coffee with a friend the next day, and I have been at home ever since apart from a few evening walks for exercise before curfew.

Media Invite_COVID 19

The two-hour session was informative, with journalists such as Television Jamaica’s Shemala Mitchell and Irie FM stalwart Natalie Campbell asking a range of questions. I recall that the event was quite well attended.

I have heard and seen a number of comments on social media recently suggesting that the Ministry of Health and Wellness has somehow lost control of the COVID-19 situation, and is floundering in confusion…

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Wanted: Herd immunity against climate change

Tick. Tick. Tick. That’s the climate clock ticking. I don’t know how many of us actually hear it. Indeed, I don’t know that some us even care to.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

Either way, as one very captivating September 4, 2019 CNN headline reads, “The Amazon is burning. The climate is changing. And we are doing nothing to stop it”.

However, surely, more of us are beginning to get it… IT, you know, the fact that even if climate change were not actually happening, then even the risk of it and all its attendant ‘side effects’ – hotter temperatures, category 5 hurricanes, extended droughts, dried-up freshwater, food insecurity, public health crises – would be worth some of our time, some of our individual and collective attention.

And the fact is, the climate is changing. The science tells us so. Meanwhile, across the globe we see or hear the reports of impacts already being felt.

Sea level rise is a challenge that comes with climate change.

“Already, two of Tuvalu’s nine islands are on the verge of going under, the government says, swallowed by sea-rise and coastal erosion. Most of the islands sit barely three metres above sea level, and at its narrowest point, Fongafale (the largest of its islands) stretches just 20m across,” reads a May 16, 2019 report from The Guardian.

Meanwhile, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report on 1.5 Degrees of Global Warming has substantiated for us that a world at 1.5 degrees of warming is in better shape than one at two degrees Celsius, which is where we are headed and fast. Translation? Go for 1.5 instead of 2.

Still, despite all the risk to ecosystems and ecosystem services to life as we know it, and the repeated warnings at least as far back as Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ in 2006, many of us appear impervious and others deliberately obtuse.

It is against this background that I read with interest the CNN article/column – written by journalist Nick Paton Walsh and the headline for which I quoted earlier – whose reflections on climate change mirrored my own perceptions of the predicament with which we are faced.

He concludes: ‘The most obvious resolution will come in a few decades, when the heat gets too much, crops fail, clean water becomes more valuable than oil, and the things you were warned about start to kill a lot of people. Then change will be inevitable and unavoidable, and the number of people all hoping for the same life of wow will sadly drop to something more sustainable’.

Ouch!

Look, there are stakeholders who are working at various levels, as well as within and across sectors – scientists and some policymakers among them – to get a handle on climate change and to do the resilience building.

But the pace is not enough and the volume of work requires more hands on deck to build on the science, to mobilise needed finance, to develop and share new technologies, to innovate, to learn, grow, adapt and, ultimately, to survive.

In public health, there is what is known as ‘herd immunity’. It is where resistance to the spread of a contagious disease within a population is the result of a sufficiently high proportion of individuals being immune to the disease, especially through vaccination.

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay.

We need to replicate that in the effort against climate change. We need herd immunity for climate change where climate change is the disease and collective, comprehensive and sustained response actions from the majority of countries, their leaders and their people are the vaccination.

Grey’s Anatomy, female cooperation and the push for progress

I recently watched an episode of Grey’s Anatomy from season 15.

In it, a woman was raped – a truth that emerged in the face of the compassion of her female physician, herself the product of rape and who had failed in her efforts to reconnect with her mother who had felt compelled to leave her behind as a baby, as a consequence of the trauma.

Ultimately, the woman who was raped was given the courage to agree to a rape kit, if and when she opted to press charges against her rapist, by the humanity and sisterhood of the female staff at ‘Grey Sloan’, the fictional hospital.

How did they do this?

Image by Alexandr Ivanov from Pixabay

The female nurses, doctors and support staff lined the corridors that led from the room where the woman had come in for care to the area where the rape kit was to be taken. This, in the effort to ensure she felt safe.

As she was wheeled out, her eyes touching the sea of female faces along the corridors, tears streaming down her face, her hand in the hand of the doctor, it was to the words of ‘Lost without you’ by Freya Ridings. You can listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9Lx6qDKQR0

It is one of the most moving scenes I have seen on screen in a long time. It was awesome to see the demonstration of such female power, community and sisterhood.

And then it hit me, we don’t see that enough in real life.

Image by jason sackey from Pixabay

Women are too often callous with each other, opting to compete rather than cooperate, to criticise rather than empower. Alarmingly, this behaviour appears to become more pronounced in the presence of men and is reinforced in the various ways in which our culture(s) manifest, such as in our music.

Don’t get me wrong, there are women who are making some good progress with this. Still, I feel there is so much more that we must do, so much more that we can do to help each other, girls and women alike.

This was reinforced for me as I listened to a discussion on sexual harassment recently. Few men can truly understand the powerlessness a woman who has been subject to sexual harassment feels. After all, he’s never been ‘the skirt’ in the room.

Meanwhile, I use sexual harassment only as an example of the powerlessness to which women have been subjected and in so many spheres of life.

And yes, we have made some moves, positive moves; but every time issues such as sexual harassment and pay scales and board membership come up, I am reminded of how much further there is to go.

Image by Quang Nguyen vinh from Pixabay

What is more, I look in my daughter’s face or an image of her comes into my mind and I realise that we must get there.

So what can we do? Well, we can start with the things below.

  1. Resist the temptation to disrespect another female, whether girl or woman.  And I know, a ‘sista’ can really test you. Still, resist.
  2. Refuse the impulse to criticise another girl or woman’s hair or dress. If her ‘get up’ is not your style, then keep it moving. And when it is, then go ahead and compliment her.
  3. Write (in music, in blogs, in the media) about women’s and girls’ capacity to overcome, to thrive. Share those stories. Celebrate those moments.
  4. Every chance you get, help another girl or woman – in the classroom, at the office, in your community.
  5. And know this, when a girl of 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 is pregnant with a grown man’s child, it is NOT her fault! She DIDN’T ask for it! If you can’t provide some sort of support, including a word of encouragement or prayers for a good outcome, then put a lid on your mouth.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

We need to get it together, ladies.

  • “Worldwide, almost one third (30%) of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner in their lifetime.”
  • “Globally, as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by a male intimate partner.”
  • “Gender-specific risk factors for common Mental Disorders that disproportionately affect women include gender-based violence, socio-economic disadvantage, low income and income inequality, low or subordinate social status and rank and UNREMITTING responsibility for the care of others.”
  • “The high prevalence of sexual violence to which women are exposed and the correspondingly high rate of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) following such violence, renders women the largest single group of people affected by this disorder.”
  • “Globally, 12 million girls each year get married before the age of 18 – roughly 33,000 every day, or one every two seconds. There are some 650 million women alive today who were child brides.”
  • “Women in rural parts of Africa spend 40 billion hours a year collecting water.”
  • “At the current rate of progress, it will take another 108 years to reach gender parity, according to the World Economic Forum’s most recent Global Gender Gap report. Across the 106 countries covered since the first edition of the report, the biggest gaps to close are in the economic and political empowerment dimensions, which will take 202 and 107 years to close, respectively.”

Get it now?

I hope so. #PressForProgress #BalanceForBetter

Stats sources:

https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/violence-against-women https://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/genderwomen/en/

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/03/surprising-stats-about-gender-inequality/

Oh to master motherhood and tame the career

Even with a hectic schedule, I had to pause for some self-expression on the subject of mastering motherhood while hotly pursuing a career; nurturing or otherwise cultivating relationships with family and friends; and somewhere in there, carving out needed ‘Me Time’. It’s enough to make your head spin … like a full 360.

Let me pause here to say that this post may come across as something of a rant, which, thankfully, is more than acceptable, since it’s my blog and coming as it does on the heels of my having watched ‘Otherhood’ and having happily fed myself a steady, rich diet of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ over many, many, manyyyyy weeks now. The latter is just too good. Yummy really. Love the way in which the female characters are presented: smart, funny, self-loving, but also human.

But back to the ‘main event’.

Honestly, I don’t know how women get it all done – child care, partner care, job care, house care, and self care. I believe that perhaps we don’t. And when we come even close to getting it all done, and with proficiency, it’s not without a considerable amount of help, which means:

  1. Super understanding, well-adjusted, confident, active, supportive husband, with whom, praise God, I am blessed;
  2. Helper/Cook/Gardener, none of whom I can find at the moment;
  3. School Teacher/Tutor without whom our children’s education would be near impossible;
  4. Mother/Mother-in-Law/Nanny/Friend/Neighbour on whom you can SAFELY call at a moment’s notice to ‘give an eye’ to your child/ren;
  5. A ‘ride or die’ Friend/Mother/Father with whom you can vent;
  6. A journal into which you can let fury fly and then make plans to even scores;
  7. Several good books and a line-up of good movies to which you retreat after the curtains come down on your day.

And the list goes on, really…

So there is help, however little or however much. For those who, for whatever reason, have none of these resources, I hate to lay it on you, but we can safely conclude that you are either on the floor or on your way there – FAST.

What’s the point here? Well, there are a few.

  • There are those among us who believe that on any given day, females can and should leave their place(s), at whim, to collect kids from here, there and/or everywhere – conveniently forgetting the need or desire of at least some women to bring in or otherwise help to bring in ‘the bacon’ while also self-actualising professionally.
  • Give it a rest working ladies – and I am speaking LOUDLY to myself here. Dial back the OCD on getting it all done; that’s enough already. This point is for me especially important, given the prevalence of, in particular, non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, as well as mental illness. As the saying goes, ‘If duck won lef pon, pon wi lef duck’. Get it? I hope so.
  • Take SEVERAL very deep breaths. And do it deliberately. In other words, deliberately stop and take 1… 2… 3… deep breaths every hour or so; and don’t forget your bathroom and tea breaks. There are too many stories of women chaining themselves to their desks, refusing to take bathroom breaks. Stop it!
  • Make time for your child/ren first and above all else. In short, grab the kid and forget the chores. And of course, don’t forget your husband or partner, to say nothing of your ‘Me Time’.
  • Take some time for spiritual practice. Indulge in daily devotion.

More anon.

Wayyy too salty

We are wayyy, wayy too salty in the Caribbean. And I don’t mean that in a colloquial sense. I mean it in a we consume wayyyy too much salt sort of a way and it is sending many of us into an early grave while wreaking havoc on our bodies and finances along the way.

I myself am no exception. Daily I do battle with consuming salty treats while reminding myself to imbibe on, you guessed it … ‘wata’, aka water, aka agua, aka l’ eau.

Most days I feel I win the battle; at least that is the story I tell myself. Earlier today, I was reminded of the need to stay the course while holding firm to my seat on the ‘Cut Back on the Salt’ wagon.

The occasion was the regional workshop on strategies to reduce salt consumption for the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the Caribbean.

It is being hosted by the Caribbean Public Health Agency in conjunction with the Ministry of Health & Wellness here in Jamaica; the Ministry of Health, Grenada; and the Ministry of Health, Trinidad and Tobago.

From the reduction of salt consumption workshop. (Photo: Ministry of Health & Wellness, Jamaica)
From the reduction of salt consumption workshop. (Photo: Ministry of Health & Wellness, Jamaica)

There, Minister of Health and Wellness Dr. Christopher Tufton called to mind some eye-opening statistics, based in the findings of the Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey for 2016/2017.

Dr. Tufton on the floor at the workshop. (Photo: Ministry of Health & Wellness, Jamaica)
  • 1 in 3 Jamaicans are hypertensive – 35.8% women and 31.7% men. Deep breath.
  • Four out of every 10 of us with hypertension are unaware of our status – 60% men and 26% women. Say what now?!!!!
  • More and more Jamaicans aged 15 to 74 years old are developing hypertension. In 2017, 31.5% of persons in this age group had high blood pressure compared to 20.9% in 2001. Gasp.

What is more, this is not only a Jamaica problem; it is also a regional problem.

Quite a part from the scope of the challenge reflected in it being a regional problem is that fact it also represents an opportunity; an opportunity to bring to bear our collective resources to benefit the greater good of the region: public health. The Minister himself advanced the need for collaboration among a wide cross-section of stakeholders.

What is more, we have things like the Caribbean Cooperation in Health Mechanism to aid us in our efforts and some global targets, to say nothing of the benefit to the population in the way of wellness – physical, mental, emotional, and financial – as incentives.

As the 2009 Policy Statement from the PAHO/WHO Regional Expert Group on Cardiovascular Disease Prevention through Dietary Salt Reduction tells us, ‘Reducing salt consumption population-wide is one of the most cost-effective measures available to public health. It can lower the rates of a number of related chronic diseases and conditions at an estimated cost of between US$0.04 and US$0.32 per person per year’,” Tufton said.

“The economic benefit of action today is also reflected in the 2018 Investment Case for NCDs in Jamaica, which projects that the economy stands to benefit to the tune of more than 77 billion Jamaican dollars over a 15-year period (2017-2030) from investing in a package of interventions for tobacco, alcohol, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease,” he added.

From the regional workshop. (Photo: Ministry of Health & Wellness, Jamaica)

Now for a few interesting or perhaps inspiring (coercive even?) facts.

  1. There is a distinction to be made between salt and sodium. One is a component of the other. Salt is 40% sodium and 60% chloride.
  2. The World Health Organisation recommends 5 grams of salt daily and 2 grams of sodium.
  3. Increasing blood pressure is the leading risk factor for death globally and the second leading risk for disability by causing heart disease, stroke and kidney failure.

Had enough?

Salt, I mean.

I hope so.

Flu Alert, Jamaica

Jamaica has been been put on alert for influenza, known more commonly as “the flu”.

In the public health interest, I take the opportunity to share the media release distributed by the Ministry of Health on the subject on February 12, following the Health Minister’s appearance before Parliament.

Here are a few key points to note from the press release, which follows.

  1. The flu is spread from person to person, primarily by coughing, sneezing and through close contact.
  2. Flu is highly contagious. It is vital that you take precautions to prevent its spread – from frequently washing hands with soap and water to coughing into the crook of your elbow and staying at home in the event you become infected.
  3. The flu vaccine is offered free of cost to high-risk groups, details of which are provided in the press release below.

PRESS RELEASE

Jamaica on Flu Alert

Kingston, Jamaica. 12 February 2019. Health Minister Dr. Christopher Tufton has put the island on alert for influenza (the “flu”), noting a significant increase in the number of cases of fever and respiratory or flu-like illnesses.

Flu is an acute viral infection that spreads easily from person to person, mainly by coughing, sneezing and through close contact. The viruses circulate worldwide and can affect anybody in any age group with symptoms varying by age and include fever/chills, sore throat, muscle aches, fatigue, cough, headache, and runny or stuffy nose.

“Mr. Speaker, we wish to advise this honourable house and the members of the public that the flu is to be taken seriously, as it can lead to pneumonia and blood infections, and cause diarrhoea and seizures in children. The flu can also worsen chronic medical conditions such as heart or lung disease,” Minister Tufton told Parliament in a statement on the subject on Tuesday afternoon (Feb 12, 2019).

Persons at highest risk of dangerous complications from the flu are infants and young children, adults 60 years and older, pregnant women, and persons with chronic medical conditions or weakened immune systems.

“Mr. Speaker, in preparation for this flu season, a total of 21,900 doses of Influenza vaccine were purchased by the Ministry of Health through the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) Revolving Fund for Vaccines and distributed to parish health departments in late October 2018. Vaccination of target groups commenced in November 2018,” the minister noted.

The vaccine is offered free of cost in the public health system to the following high-priority groups:

  • Healthcare workers;
  • Children and elderly with chronic illnesses;
  • Pregnant women;
  • Individuals who are institutionalised or in state care; and
  • Non-health frontline workers.

Private health care providers are encouraged to procure the influenza vaccine through private distributors in order to provide for the general population.

By activating the protocols for an alert status for Fever and Respiratory (Influenza-like) Illness, the Ministry of Health will immediately:

  • enhance its public education campaign to reinforce good hand hygiene and emphasize respiratory etiquette;
  • activate enhanced infection control programme in hospitals and health facilities for preventing, controlling and investigating communicable diseases;
  • increase stocks of medication in hospitals and health facilities to respond to increase in the number of persons hospitalised;
  • continue and expand the extended opening hours at health centres to provide access to at-risk populations to include the elderly and children under 5 years; and
  • continue implementation of overcrowding management plans for major hospitals.

“Mr. Speaker, the implications of this increase in the number of cases of the flu will mean that members of the public will experience longer waiting times at public health facilities. We crave their indulgence, as we seek to ensure that all those who visit our facilities receive care,” Tufton said.

“At the same time, we strongly encourage members of the public to practice good hygiene, including washing hands with soap and water; and covering the mouth and nose while coughing or sneezing,” he added.

For more information, you can contact the Ministry of Health at 888-ONE-LOVE (663-5683).

At the sound of NCDS … My heart beats just a bit faster

I have been too long gone from my blog, but, as with my running, absence does make my heart grow fonder. ‘The bug’ has hit and I have to go for it … And NOW, despite already long hours spent at a computer today.

On this occasion, I am turning my attention to public health and letting loose on NCDs. Yes, you know, Non-communicable Diseases, aka, ‘the silent killers’.

Honestly, the data reflecting the scale of the challenge to Jamaica from hypertension, cancer and diabetes – to name a few NCDs – is more than eyebrow raising.

My heart beats just a little bit faster at these numbers:

  • 1 in 3 Jamaicans have hypertension.
  • 1 in 8 Jamaicans have diabetes.
  • 4 of every 10 Jamaicans with either of these diseases are unaware of their status.

This is according to the Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey (JHLS) 2016-2017.

And then there is overweight/obesity, a known modifiable risk factor for the development of NCDs, including the two named above. The data tells us that 1 in 2 Jamaicans are overweight or obese.

To put things squarely into perspective, seven out of every 10 Jamaicans die from a NCD each year.

Alarmed anyone? Well, one COULD be, but one does not NEED to be. The statistics are a #WakeUp call. The beauty about a #WakeUp call is, unlike an alarm clock, you cannot simply hit the ‘off’ button and then roll over in bed under your warm blanket … Not usually anyway.

When the wake up call comes, I (face on the right) am not always minded to get up. But then I remember the face on the left and I get moving.

With a #WakeUp call, you have a voice at the other end, asking, ‘Are you sure you’re awake?’ And this, having already announced, ‘This is your #WakeUp call’.

The team at Jamaica’s Ministry of Health is that voice at the other end. And they are doing a lot to see that we all wake up.

I know you have heard of Jamaica MovesRestrictions on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages in Schools; the Taking Responsibility Road Tour … Indeed, you have.

These are efforts that encourage us to really #WakeUp. Translation? Get your health checked; get moving and get to adjusting your diet to include more water, less sugar, and certainly less salt … A little at a time, a day at a time.

Yeah, now, I’m up.

This is nothing that is going to be achieved overnight, but we must get it done. ‘1 in 3’, ‘1 in 8’, ‘1 in 2’, and ‘7 of 10’ dictate that we must.

In the wake of the Big ‘C’

Writing in December on the Big C, I was at least half way convinced that my friend, Jan — I can write her name now — would, by some miracle, have beat the dreaded disease. She didn’t. And I am compelled, daily, to face that.

Jan
Jan

It is said that there are five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. I  don’t know where I am at the moment. I feel like a pendulum, suspended and swinging from one to the other — today in denial, convinced I need only pick up the phone to hear her at the other end; and tomorrow, accepting, barely, that there is no such option.

Jan & Rayne
Jan with my daughter Rayne.

Now close to seven months since her death,  I am convinced it will be some time yet before I can truly accept that Jan is gone and, critically, that she won’t be back — not in the way that my human consciousness would like her to be — and I must, as my husband and I did with Alexandra, continue the onward march that is life.

Jan, Raynor & Raynor
Jan (right) with my husband and I some years ago.

The thing is, if I am honest, Jan would have it no other way. Her lasting gift to me, after all, was the reminder to LIVE and to live well and in purpose, God’s purpose.

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