Addressing Chronic Disease in Trinidad

Monica Jordan, 2013 GHLI Fellow

Several weeks into my fellowship here in Trinidad, I’ve finally figured out how to navigate the bustling city of Port of Spain using taxis and public transportation. I recently moved from St. Augustine to Port of Spain, to begin work in the Ministry of Health as I switched focus from research support to implementation support.

The furthest southeast of the islands, and only seven miles from Venezuela at its closest point, Trinidad’s economy is driven by the petroleum industry, not tourism as I might have expected. A middle-income country, it is common for people to own cars, eat American-style fast food and spend leisure time in the malls. I was intrigued to learn that the large Kentucky Fried Chicken in Port of Spain has the highest amount of fried chicken sold out of any KFC branch worldwide.

While it is common knowledge in the public health community here that residents in Trinidad suffer from high levels of chronic diseases, the exact burden is unknown. The project I am working on will implement a pilot project of an electronic medical records system that will capture information on chronic disease, along with relevant risk factors including diet, physical activity, alcohol and tobacco use. 

What has really stood out to me in this process is the importance of early collaboration with all involved stakeholders. Trinidad’s de-centralized health system means that many directives are top-down.  In order for this proposed electronic system to work, there must be buy-in from the nurses and staff that will actually be working with it on a daily basis. While this collaboration can lend itself to a slower process in the planning for implementation, it holds greater potential for implementation and project success, and I am excited to be a part of that process throughout the remainder of my time here.

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