The Malta Independent 16 July 2020, Thursday

COVID-19 proves no island is alone

Justyne Caruana Sunday, 31 May 2020, 08:45 Last update: about 3 months ago

No man is an island, entire to itself John Donne, English poet (1572-1631)

While it is true that as human beings we are all dependent and connected to each other, this statement falls short when one considers the impact globalisation and climate change has on our geo-physical well-being. Like us, islands are affected by the environment. They are not immune to the adverse effects brought about by human beings. Just as we have skin to protect us from the external invasion of harmful elements, islands have shorelines that in an ideal world should serve the same purpose. Decisions taken on a global platform by diverse governments affect human beings and islands equally.

ADVERTISEMENT

Solid principles

It is therefore no surprise that no matter how resilient and law-abiding our communities are, external factors from distant shores impact us. COVID-19 has brought the world to its knees. Our islands were not spared from its contagion but our robust socio-economic foundations have risen to the occasion and thus far we have suffered minimal collateral damage. I stress the words thus far because we must realise that, notwithstanding the gradual easing off of protective measures, we should still abide by the health authorities' directives. 

Over the years, groups and individuals took initiatives and pioneered sterling work to create buffer-zones of defence for the most vulnerable in our society. The growing contribution of voluntary work in Gozo has been a constant enlightenment that has intrigued and inspired me since my University days and then spurned me further in my public life, both as a lawyer and as a politician.

My belief

It has been a privilege for me to have been entrusted in high positions to serve the country in the disability and elderly sector and of late, as minister in my very own homeland. Some might think that a politician's achievements are based on what is visible. What pleases the public eye, brings about prestige but eclipses the far deeper carrying out of one's duty.

In my experience, eye-pleasing projects, which in my case were innumerable all over Malta and Gozo, are not the only criteria that make a politician a high achiever. There are much deeper and more valuable attributes that I have always believed to be crucial in my years of service to our country. It is only when personal integrity and hard work are factored into the equation that a politician earns public trust and is complete. Popularity is an essential bonus for electoral purposes, however, conscientious and loyal performance of one's public duties together with tangible and long-standing legacies, are what sum up a true politician.

This approach to politics is what has driven me throughout my years in public service. These values are to me precious and run deep. I am tranquil and confident that in all my endeavours I have acted with integrity and worked towards tangible and long-term goals for the common good.

Gozo affairs

As chairperson to the Parliamentary Committee for Gozo Affairs, I have therefore made it a point to invite our hard-working NGOs to discuss their achievments and challenges with a view to evaluate and alleviate underlying problems within the Gozitan community and push forward any necessary legislative measures. In fact, at the third sitting since the Committee's recent inception, I invited the Oasi Foundation to present us with a snapshot of the impact COVID-19 is having on the Foundation's clients and operations.

The importance of addressing addictions, particularly drug and alcohol abuse, is in my opinion essential for the well-being of our society. During my tenure in political life, I have had diverse meetings with the Foundation and saw the extent of this problem first-hand.

Last year Oasi was in contact with 200 persons asking for help. A total of 400 individuals benefitted from their services and 3,000 hours of direct work were put in on cases related to addictions. Additionally, 3,000 hours were dedicated to prevention and education. Cocaine addiction has superseded the use of heroin, with 45% of cases referred to the Foundation, were cocaine-related. Half of the victims had a secondary level education, the rest had post-secondary education and 16% were university graduates.

Oasi's sterling work

This worring trend is further impacted by the fact that alcohol is the predecessor of cocaine addiction in most cases and it is legal and cheap to buy. Combined with partying and having fun it is leading people to seek bigger highs. The fact that stigmatisation of persons addicted to drugs stops them from seeking help, while in the party scene, not using drugs means that a person is not normal. A suggestion presented by Oasi to prevent stigmatisation, is for victims to detox at home supported by professionals. I have noted the idea and will be finding solutions in the coming days, in order to push forward this proposal to the relevant authorities.

The normalisation of drug abuse has created a viscous circle that needs to be addressed  particularly in the education system. Demographically, addictions are on equal footing on both Gozo and Malta. The reason for this is the ease with which people are able to communicate. Oasi is suggesting a longitudinal study among young Gozitan people through youth work that would address their particular needs. The snowballing effect in this study would help spread the word and educate our youths on the dangers of substance abuse. It is commendable that Oasi has of late been offering training sessions for guidance- and head-teachers with positive results.

COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic was also addressed by the Foundation. Group and individual therapy sessions are being held via telephone or the internet, which is not having the same effect as face-to-face contact. In fact, some clients have relapsed because of the lack of physical interaction with their therapists. The majority of persons needing in-house treatment come from Malta and only one person at a time is admitted. Persons seeking rehabilitation must first detoxify and then go through a process of quarantine in a separate building to safeguard already admitted residents.

Currently, Oasi is the only Foundation offering safe admissions through the Health Department criteria on the islands all thanks to the collaboration of government entities. The current restrictions have also created a degree of anxiety among people in need of help. The family of the victims normally play an important role in their recovery. Crucial support is now lacking and adds to the anxiety caused by lack of contact which in turn is leading to relapse and isolation.  

The post-pandemic era

As chairperson of the Gozitan Affairs' Committee, I will ensure that we will be looking into ways of alleviating problems and finding solutions to challenges brought about by the pandemic and post-pandemic. This is all part and parcel of my role as a politician. No man is an island and no island is alone – we are all connected – COVID-19 has made this very clear! Together we can move mountains. In the years to come a culture of collaboration, which I am determined to push forward, will pull us through and help create a better society for the benefit of all.

 

  • don't miss