CURRENTLY, one of the most serious issues in St Lucia not being debated enough is that of health care. A recent statement by the Prime Minister that health care would be the number one priority of a re-elected St Lucia Labour Party government has been met with derision by many who see it as an admission of failure, especially over the past five years.
It also begs the question and a fair question too: why should the government be trusted to fix the health problems over another term, given its record over the last one? Also, there are so many “number one priority” rated issues facing this country at this time it makes us wonder where health care will actually find its place.
But in saying this, we concede that the health sector is in need of serious attention, not only in terms of providing the equipment and services that it currently lacks, but also from the standpoint of disease and sickness prevention, especially given the fact that a number of serious maladies are beginning to attack children, our future.
A story out of Dominica last week about concerns in official circles there that obesity among both adults and children was increasing at an “alarming” rate, cited diets and lifestyle as contributing factors. St Lucia’s figures for overweight and obese children may not be as high as Dominica’s but it does not mean that our problems are any different.
Slowly in recent times we have been made to appreciate the full impact of some of the more prevalent diseases afflicting St Lucians, like diabetes, the toll on lives and the toll on health services, and judging from the level of government response, it is fair to say that the full impact is not being appreciated at that level, despite all the glib talk and promises.
Imagine, in a country that spends millions of dollars every year– money generated from both the public and private sector –on fun and games and entertainment, we have people dying because of the inadequacy of health services. The ongoing discussion about the shortage of dialysis machines has become a perfect example of the neglect that has been widespread in our country in so many sectors. It is obvious that investment needed to keep our health services current has not been made. Further, there can be no credible promise or guarantee of better health care without some indication of how it will be financed because admittedly it will be costly.
We alluded earlier to prevention. Imagine the future consequences of our failure to put a stop to the widespread consumption of the foods and drinks that are causing diabetes in our children. In fact, we hardly acknowledge the problem. Mexico has gone on the offensive becoming the first country in the Americas to increase taxes on soft drinks and other sugary beverages in an effort to reduce consumption. Dominica too only last September imposed a tax on food and drinks with high sugar content.
Of course such measures only go some way in addressing the health problems. What is required is a comprehensive national strategy to deal with the situation.
In St Lucia, we have already wasted precious time, and continue to waste more, not dealing with our health issues. The health of our people is so important that fixing it should not have to be dependent on the promise of a political party campaigning to remain in office. If the delay in bringing the new hospitals into service, in getting the forensic laboratory up and running again, in ending over-crowding at the prisons etc, etc. are indication of the government’s resolve in attending to critical issues, should we have any confidence that current concerns will be addressed over another five years?