Letters & Opinion

Good News for Healthcare in the OECS

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A recent press release in the Voice of 10th Nov, made a passing reference to OECS Health Ministers ‘advancing new health initiatives including deepening co-operation with the French Territories to ensure no citizen of OECS Member States are (sic) left behind!’

The citizens of the said OECS could be forgiven for wondering how precisely they could board that particular train, the details of which can be found in the Martinique edition of France Antilles of 6 Nov 2018.

It is well known that the populations of Dominica, Guadeloupe, Martinique and St. Lucia have enjoyed close cultural relations because of a specific colonial ancestry.

Dominican & St. Lucian nationals have consequently availed themselves of the advanced medical facilities in Guadeloupe and Martinique for decades – of which the French authorities are very well aware.

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Such medical cooperation has been driven by ad hoc relationships between physicians in the four islands and has included emergency medical evacuations to the French territories, all of which has been conducted outside of any official framework.

Past attempts to strengthen the nascent medical cooperation between Martinique and St. Lucia have mostly come to naught.

Training of our local nurses for the new EU-funded (OKEU) hospital sponsored by the then Regional Council of Martinique as long ago as 2009 never got off the ground. (In fact, nurses who paid their way to Martinique for one of the programs were chastised for leaving the State without permission!)

A signed cancer management agreement between St. Lucia and the Reseau Oncologie de la Martinique (ROM) has never been implemented.

Notwithstanding, some degree of medical co-operation did continue, thanks to the commitment of medical professionals at the University Hospital of Martinique.

Short duration training programs have been conducted in Martinique and St. Lucia in the following areas: Intensive Care Unit, the management of Ebola and Zika, Radiology, Sterilisation, to name a few. In addition, a St. Lucian anesthesiology student at Kingston County Hospital (Jamaica) was granted a paid, six-month attachment at the ICU at the University Hospital.

The significance of the j French/OECS arrangements is that, for the first time, there now exists a structured, formalized accord, with defined objectives and dedicated funding (€6.4 million) provided by the European Union under its current Interreg Caribbean programme for medical co-operation, due to end in 2020.

This is also the first time that there has been buy-in at the regional political level.

However, this is but a beginning, fraught with a major challenge – implementation at the technical level.

A successful realization of the stated objectives will require an unprecedented degree of cooperation across the six beneficiary ministries of health.

Is there room for optimism? Yes, there is, on at least two counts – firstly, the governments don’t have to find the money; secondly, the success of the OECS Pharmaceutical Procurement project suggests ‘Yes, we can’.

Looking towards the future, success of the 17 defined projects — involving six English-speaking independent countries’ health authorities, (Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent), as well as University Hospitals, public and private clinics in four French overseas territories (Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Barths & St. Martin), plus their Regional Health Authorities (ARSs) — augurs well for capacity building in healthcare provision in the sub-region.

It will also go a long way in cementing relationships with the French National Health system, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) has described as one of the best in the world!

Keats Compton
Secretary General
Caribbean Doctors Association

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