After Covid-19: Healthy lifestyle must be part of our “new normal”

by Arley Gill

Few things compare to the hustle and bustle of Grenadian life.

The lively banter between vendors and buyers in the market; the laughter of school children in school yards; the tug ‘o’ war battles between bus conductors and passengers; and the rhythmic sound of music blasting from windows of vehicles passing by — everywhere you turn, there is colour, there is music, there is niceness.

However, the essence of what makes us a vibrant and colourful people — the sights and sounds of everyday living — was abruptly halted by the invasion of Covid-19.

Forced to be at home for what may feel like forever, many of us are turning to food and drinks as a way to cope with a 24-hour lockdown. It is my view that, as we settle into this ‘’new normal”, a healthy lifestyle must be a personal and national priority, if we are to truly rebound from — and also to resist in the future — public health threats such as Covid-19.

As a people, we are our nation’s most valuable economic resource. And, regardless of the state of the economy after this global pandemic ends — I caution that Grenada’s economic recovery should not only be measured by the speed at which the tourism and construction sectors bounce back or by the employment rate.

What many nations are learning from the onset of the coronavirus is that the physical health of residents in any country, along with its healthcare infrastructure, are two of the most important factors in determining how well a nation responds to public health threats. Without a healthy workforce, there can be no real and meaningful economic recovery.

Of course, we are compelled to plan for the future — with or without the presence of the coronavirus. As we plan for the future, we must be concerned about jobs and livelihoods in Grenada. However, we should also be thinking about what our nation can learn from other nations — both near and far — about the impacts of public health threats, such as Covid-19, on vulnerable populations. Let’s take, for example, the United States of America.

In the US, Black Americans constitute only 13% of the population; yet, they are 30% of the people dying from Covid-19. America’s death rate is similar for Black, Asian, Minority and Ethnic (BAME) individuals living in the United Kingdom. BAME residents are 14% of the UK population and 19% of the individuals dying of Covid-19.

Doctors on the frontlines of this global pandemics have observed an interesting phenomenon relative to Covid-19 and patients with underlying health conditions such as diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure and asthma. Individuals, with weakened immune systems, are more likely to die from the virus. This observation should serve as a wakeup call for us in the Caribbean; and, specifically here in Grenada — as we consider post-Covid-19 priorities, we must make a healthy lifestyle change — a part of this “new normal” in our country.

Eating too many salty foods, sugary drinks and consuming foods with little or no nutritional value, are already wreaking havoc on vulnerable people around the world.

I am certain that each of us has a family member or friend in Grenada or elsewhere, living with diabetes or hypertension or both. In the aftermath of Covid-19, our government, for instance, can create ways to educate the public through culturally appropriate public service announcements; and, by developing a long-term plan to achieve food security not only in Grenada but also in the region.

In Grenada, we have more than enough fresh fruits and vegetables available for each person to consume. Therefore, it should be easy to eat healthy and prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes. But as we all know, this is not the case — our people are already dying prematurely and in high numbers from preventable non-communicable diseases.

Eating local and staying healthy should be part of any new economic policy planning process. More importantly, and at the least, we must grow what we eat and eat what we grow. We once attempted to do so. It will be good for Grenadians, good for the economy and good for the planet.

Moving forward, let us come together as one family to encourage each other to eat well; consume alcohol in moderation and responsibly; exercise and take care of each other. We should also find ways to promote and prioritise our small farmers and fisherfolk — essential workers in the future fight against Covid-19.

A crucial part of Grenada’s economic recovery cannot just focus on tourism and construction — to do so, will be to repeat errors made in the past. If Covid-19 taught us anything as small island states, it is that being able to feed our nation in times of crises, is not only important but also quintessential to our survival.

I note with some regret, the fact that farmers and fisherfolk are not considered essential workers in this Covid-19 period. In my respectful view, they are the very essence of essential workers. They have to feed the doctors, nurses, police officers, patients and everyone else. However, I guess that since we import so much of the food we consume — we do not appreciate the contributions of farmers and fisherfolk as we should.

With an eye on the future, I strongly propose that the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries be subsumed as departments in a ministry of Food Security/Production; thereby, shifting and intensifying the focus on farmers and fisherfolk. Food security and food production are areas government should give greater attention. We need to transform the agricultural sector and move from a piecemeal approach to a more strategic approach.

This is a moment for new and revolutionary thinking on what economic recovery really means in Grenada and the Caribbean region. Specifically, government’s efforts to restart Grenada’s economy post-Covid-19 must include ideas that prioritise a healthy lifestyle that is tied to local food production and local consumption, and with food security as the ultimate goal.

We should not rely on yesterday’s solutions to solve today and tomorrow’s problems, especially as we figure out individually and collectively, what life will eventually look like after Covid-19.

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