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Truth and Consequences

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
June 07, 2011

When I asked whether our honorable Prime Minister has a drinking problem I did not mean to be uncharitable or to be "sexist." Given Dominique Strauss-Kahn's difficulties I thought it responsible to raise an issue that has gained a life of its own. I still contend that the enabling role Strauss-Kahn's friends played in supporting his illness may be analogous to the deafening public silence that surrounds the PM's purported drinking problem. Many of Strauss-Khan's close friends knew he had a problem. None was bold enough to speak about it publicly.

My mother used to say no one ever goes to a parlor to buy a pound of cancer or a half-pound of diabetes. People get sick for many reasons. For some, it has to do with inherited genetic traits. This is true for leaders of government as well as the ordinary person. However, it is important to find out the cause of one's illness and treat it in an expeditious manner. Openness and honesty are always the best policies in these matters. Given the truth, the public will understand.

But it takes courage to do this. I speak from example.

Three years ago I was diagnosed with having prostate cancer. I wrote openly about it in the newspapers because I wanted others, particularly other black men, to be on guard about this killer disease. I even spoke about its side effects so that black men could be aware of the dangers that awaited them if they neglected to treat this condition.

I opted to take a prostatectomy (the removal of one's prostate gland), to treat my disease. To bring this disease out of the darker places (no pun intended), I wrote a funny article called "The Thing" in which I explored two consequences of prostatectomy: the possibility of becoming impotent (the inability to have an erection) and/or incontinence (unable to hold one's urine.) While I do not have a problem controlling my urine, I still have a problem with potency. It is difficult to get "the thing" up.

For black men who take pride in their potency and the efficiency of their laudatory male instrument (some men see their penises as weapons), the inability to get an erection can be a devastating blow to their manhood. Without their potency some men feel they should not even be alive. Admitting the truth helps one to come to grips with one's condition and to seek treatment for one's disease. It is not the end of one's life.

In a way alcoholism is to East Indians what prostate cancer is to the African. East Indians are susceptible to alcoholism for several reasons. Although some East Indian women become victims of alcoholism it is mostly the men who are susceptive to this disease. This has a lot to do with their diets which, in many cases, lead to the prevalence of diabetes which, in the men, lead to impotence. Many East Indian men turn to the bottle because they are unable to face this condition.

Therefore it is not coincident that many of the contemporary Indian songs glorify rum. In response to a quarry from his prospective father-in-law Rikki Jai, this year's Chutney Monarch, declared: "White Oak and Water/ Is all I have to offer." In 2010 " Ravi-B's "Ah Drinka" won the Chutney Soca Monarch with a song that warned his girlfriend, "You can't change me, no way./ Girl, you know I was a drinker."

In an insightful article in the Trinidad Guardian, Lisa Allen-Agostini quotes Zaheer "Big Rich" Khan, a composer of several 2010 Chutney "rum" songs as saying "People pretending they don't do these things. All the songs is about everyday life things. Let's say I don't do any rum songs. That is not going to decrease drinking and driving. It's not going to save no lives."

In their study "Variations in Alcohol-Metabolizing Enzymes in People of East Indian and African Descent from Trinidad and Tobago" Shelley Moore and her fellow researchers acknowledge that there is a difference in alcoholism rates between Africans and East Indians. They also discovered that "a variant in the gene encoding cytosolic ALDH1A was found to be associated with an increase in alcoholic dependence in Indo-Trinidadians." In other words, there is a biological basis for the high level of alcoholism among East Indians.

The authors of the study concluded: "Ethnic studies investigating the prevalence of alcoholism in Trinidad and Tobago found that alcoholism prevalence is substantially higher among Indo-Trinidadians than among Afro-Trinidadians. For example, a recent assessment survey reported an alcohol problem rate of 47 percent among Indo-Trinidadians, compared with 33 percent among Afro-Trinidadians."

There can be no shame on our Prime Minister if it turns out that she has a problem with alcohol. Neither should it prevent her from continuing to serve in her present office. However, if she has a drinking problem, it would be salutary to hers and the nation's health if she said publicly, "I have a medical problem, it is one to which many of us are susceptible. I am attending to my problem. It would be nice if all of us can confront our fears and deal with any diseases which none of us purchased in a shop or in a parlor."

In 2006, in a book In Sickness and in Power, David Owen, a former British Foreign Minister and physician, chronicled how sickness impacted upon the judgment of political leaders during the twentieth century. In an article, "Fit For Purpose?" (2009) he noted that "illnesses in heads of government is an important one...Indecision or wrong decisions, as a result of illness amongst heads of government over the last 100 years have been among the factors producing poor government. Yet there has been little research on the relationship between a leader's ill health and poor decision making."

Isn't this something that we ought to take a look at?

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