Greeting by Her Excellency Reema Carmona at the Red Dress Ball

Greeting by Her Excellency Reema Carmona At The Red Dress Ball
Hosted By The Trinidad & Tobago Heart Foundation
At The Hyatt Regency Ballroom, February 14, 2016


The heart is a symbol of love and endearment, more so on this special Valentine’s Day. This symbol is the essence of affirmative emotional expression.  When all is said and done, the heart is really a life maintaining organ that makes us literally tick and sustain our lives because the state of your heart will often determine the quality of your life.  Some eighteen (18) years ago, the Trinidad and Tobago Heart Foundation was incorporated with stated objectives of promoting healthy lifestyles to lower Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) through preventative education, research and development, community outreach, collaboration with state agencies and affirmative health policies.  The Trinidad and Tobago Heart Foundation recognised then, as they do now that a large segment of our society is caught up in a fast food culture, where foods drenched in oil and other unhealthy cooking ingredients are consumed daily.  We cannot be indifferent to the fact that every year, Mother Earth loses 8.6 million women globally from heart attacks.  Ladies and gentlemen, in the time it takes for me to speak to you this afternoon, for example, sixteen thousand one hundred and twenty five Americans will die from heart disease, stroke or some other cardiovascular disease as estimated by the American Heart Association.  The research of the American Heart Association further revealed that cardiovascular diseases claims more lives than all forms of cancer combined and eighty percent of cardiovascular related deaths took place in low and middle income countries like Trinidad and Tobago.  In fact, in Trinidad and Tobago, out of every 100 people who die each year, 37 die from heart disease.  It is against the backdrop of these disturbing statistics, that support for The Go Red For Women Campaign is critical, since the bedrock of communities continue to erode through the loss of mothers, daughters, sisters, caretakers, homemakers and providers to cardiovascular disease.


In Trinidad and Tobago, we hold on to buzz words and buzz expressions.  Yes we preach “Prevention is better than cure” but are we prepared as a people to invoke the full meaning of this expression in firm transformational action?  We live in a world obsessed with pills and we do not link our medical problems to our toxic lifestyles. Preventative measures like healthy eating and exercising, should always trump the overconsumption of pills.  Pills are becoming the easy way out to our health challenges and we always try to reason ourselves out of exercise and healthy eating.  Often the cry is, “I am too tired”, “I had a hard day”, “The sun is too hot”, “I don’t have time to prepare something healthy” or I will buy food outside.”  Have we ever taken into consideration that a run around the savannah in your village or town  or an hour in the gym can energize you and make you forget about that stressful day you had and by extension, create healthier heart that we all seek?  We continue to look for a panacea on the altar of convenience that does not require sacrifice.  Only recently, for example, imagine I was informed that Puncheon rum lowers one’s cholesterol levels and I do not intend to get into the merits or demerits of this.  There is simply no easy way out of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Like the biblical admonition ‘Faith without works, is dead’, awareness and advocacy without action and accomplishment, are simply useless.  We must therefore find a way to ensure that our voices are heard and the message of a healthy heart resonates.  Like the constant beating of the heart, we must make earnest efforts to ensure that billboards, street corners and public facilities are equipped with information that can educate citizens about cardiovascular disease (CVD) and how to minimize it.

Ladies and gentlemen, another buzz expression, that age old maxim, “Your health is your wealth” is well known to us all, but in Trinidad and Tobago, do we really look at our diets realistically?  Our much vaunted local cuisine has its pitfalls.  We have an obsession with oil, lard, ghee and of course, the Siamese twins, salt and sugar, all contributing to CVD.  We need to truthfully assess our local cuisine and its contents to appreciate its sometimes deleterious impact on our health, more so our cardiovascular health.  Why can’t we consider tailoring our diets to resemble the internationally recognized Mediterranean diet with a view to arresting CVD, a diet that consists of plant-based foods and whole grains, using our very own local plant-based foods and whole grains tweaking it as we see our own Caribbean cuisine to fit the healthy Mediterranean mound.

Parents, especially mothers must be taught to acknowledge that the real battle and fight against heart disease begins in our children’s lunch bags.  We must ensure that they have meals filled with all the necessary nutrients they need.  They should have fruits instead of sugary snacks and water and juice instead of soft drinks.  If all those choices are made available to our children, those healthy choices will continue through to adult life and can result is more bed space in the hospitals. (The Honourable Minister of Health will certainly be happy about this.) As part of the Association’s trust, we must begin a campaign that encourages all children without exception to engage in a sport and preferably a sport that they like and would carry them through to their adult life and I warn, not a sport that the parent likes but what the child likes.

The Trinidad and Tobago Heart Foundation must also consider sensitizing in a proactive way, our young people about the need to look after their cardiovascular health.  We should therefore be targeting those entering their twenties if not before to undergo periodic cardiovascular risk assessment every three to five years to identify, if there are any, risk factors of cardiovascular disease  and offer guidance on the appropriate management of specific risk factors.  During our twenties, the thought of cardiovascular disease may never enter one’s mind as it is perceived to be a disease that torments older individuals.  The truth be told, is at that young age, persons tend to consume excessive amounts of fast food, soft drinks and alcohol, indifferent to the negative impact on their health.  Persons in their twenties need to appreciate that they may well be setting themselves up for cardiovascular disease earlier in life because of their cholesterol levels caused by their bad food choices and lifestyles.  High cholesterol levels in our youth is a growing phenomenon of great concern and must be addressed in a proactive manner.

We sometimes read about a lack of available expertise surgical or otherwise in certain medical disciplines and patients, are often sent abroad for treatment.  I have a humble suggestion.  Let us begin with the Scholarship contracts offered to CAPE open scholarship winners by inserting a clause that mandates or gives an option to the graduating medical student to further read for a speciality or sub speciality in cardiovascular medicine or any other medical discipline where there is a shortfall.  Down the road, it may lead to a more productive, competent and cost effective healthcare system.

Corporate Trinidad and Tobago, we thank you for your support but you can further support the association’s fight against cardiovascular disease by engaging in an all out war against obesity.  Why don’t you offer year round Programmes under the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) for healthier living, to your staff and not restrict EAP assistance in the main to only drug abuse, alcoholism, domestic violence and depression.  These Programmes that Corporate Trinidad and Tobago sometimes run for carnival, must be continued after the carnival season because fitness and by extension good health does not begin and end with Carnival.  Corporate Trinidad and Tobago must be reminded that a healthier and less stressful staff is a more productive staff with greater morale.

The diminution of heart disease lies in the hands of each and every one of us in this room.  It is our responsibility to heighten awareness, engage in aggressive action- oriented advocacy and publicly lead by example.  Why should we wait until we are diagnosed to stop smoking?  Why wait until we are sick to start exercising?  Why wait until we are hospitalised to start eating right?  With such a spectrum of information readily available, we must ask ourselves: Am I taking the necessary steps to ensure that my heart continues ceaselessly to do its job?  Am I spreading this information to my friends and family?  To the Heart Foundation, continue your resilient efforts in advocacy and encourage our citizenry to make the necessary lifestyle changes. Let us always remember that every beat counts and take those important steps to ensure that we get the 2.5 billion beats during our lifetime.

As I close, I would like to congratulate and commend the Trinidad and Tobago Heart Foundation for raising awareness and continuing to fight this good and honourable fight to ensure healthier and happier Trinidad and Tobago.  I would also like to wish each of you a Happy Valentine’s Day, one filled with great love and genuine happiness.

I thank you.