Letters & Opinion

HEALTHCARE AND HOSPITAL SHIP — Saint Lucians Have a Right to Ask Questions

By Peter Lansiquot
Imag: Cuba Makes Strides In Health For 2017

AN American Hospital Ship is set to arrive in Saint Lucia within the next few days. It will provide medical attention to at least 500 citizens each day! By the end of one week here, at that rate, about 3,500 Saint Lucians will have been treated by the personnel on that ship. Let me put this into perspective: when I headed the Embassy of Saint Lucian in Havana, Cuba, I had the honour, the pleasure and the privilege of introducing the Cuban eye-care intervention programme, Operación Milagro, into Saint Lucia. During my nearly two years at our embassy, I personally coordinated the arrival of over 3,700 Saint Lucians in Cuba, who all received many surgical interventions to their eyes, as well as medical attention in other areas of need. So, what Comrade John Odlum, Dr. Bennet Henry, Mr. ReynerioAmargos, and I, all Embassy staff, accomplished in nearly two years, in terms of numbers of patients treated in Cuba, the American Hospital Ship will accomplish in one week! Now, that’s a heck of a lot of people. In the circumstances Saint Lucians are, understandably, all over social media, discussing this sudden extremely generous visit by a Hospital Ship from the United States, providing free medical attention to so many people.

As far as Saint Lucians are aware, again understandably, the origins and objectives of this initiative are quite strange for the following reasons: (1) Saint Lucia has recorded no medical epidemic which has necessitated such an emergency-like visit by a hospital ship; I mean 500 patients a day is an incredible number of patients! True, our health sector has been in tatters in more recent years, but we have heard of no particular disease outbreak in Saint Lucia. (2) As far as Saint Lucians are aware, the Government of Saint Lucia did not conduct any healthcare survey among the population that has perhaps resulted in the solicitation and subsequent visit of this hospital ship. (3) Our sister Caribbean island, The Bahamas, just experienced the most disastrous hurricane in the entire recorded history of the island. The entire island of Ábaco was decimated, much like what a nuclear bomb does to human settlements. Over 97% of the housing stock was completely destroyed. Saint Lucians and other Caribbean people are asking, understandably and reasonably, why has this humanitarian American Hospital Ship not been re-deployed to The Bahamas, instead of proceeding to Saint Lucia, where there is no such desperate situation, where there is no disaster? As I write, nearly 80 thousand Bahamians have been homeless and in shelters and stadiums for over a week! Imagine the number of sick Bahamians in that human tragedy!

I am deeply disturbed by the reactions of several citizens to the generalized concerns emanating from Saint Lucians about the origins of the US Hospital Ship. Some seem to be of the opinion that Saint Lucians are “stupid” or out of place to have such concerns. Others seem to think that since the medical treatment is free, Saint Lucians should just jump aboard ship, and stretch their arms and bare their buttocks. To my mind, the three factors I mentioned above should be normal concerns by any civilized people. And these concerns come into even sharper focus when the boss in the Oval Office is on record as a demagogue and a racist. A man who refused to rent his apartments in New York to Black Americans, including Black professionals (Black Doctors, Black Engineers, Black Accountants, Black Artists, etc.). A man who has described African countries and Black nations generally as “shit-hole” countries, which of course include Saint Lucia. A man who thinks that Mexicans who cross the border illegally into the United States are “criminals”, “rapists”, “murderers”, etc., etc. A man whose immigration authorities are, right now as I write, stopping the entry into the United States of many homeless Bahamians, victims of Hurricane Dorian, apparently because they have no US entry visas. The first American President in 200 years who has refused to declare his tax returns to the people of the United States, the same people who voted him into office, and who now finance his lavish lifestyle. A man who still pretends that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States; in other words, a deeply flawed human being!

There can be nothing wrong with Saint Lucians having concerns about an American Hospital Ship that suddenly arrives at our shores, to provide free medical attention, while that deeply flawed human being is President of the United States of America. You have to be of “House Slave” mentality if you have a problem with these concerns in the circumstances. And Saint Lucians have a right to be concerned even if they had never heard of the Tuskegee abomination, among other abominations. Very few Saint Lucians would have been expressing these concerns if the American Hospital Ship had arrived in Saint Lucia while President Barack Obama sat in the Oval Office. And it would not be because Obama is a Black man. It would be because Barack Obama is a decent man, a very civilized, cultured American citizen. All these realities leave me deeply, profoundly disappointed, with those Saint Lucians who are presently pretending that there is something strange or unbecoming on the part of our citizens who have expressed reasonable doubts about the sudden free healthcare.

What is more disappointing however, is the total silence from the authorities, even in the face of the buzzing discussion on social media. Given the above explained circumstances, it is my view that the authorities should have intervened long ago, to inform and reassure the Saint Lucian public on this matter. The social media buzz on the issue more than justifies central government intervention on the issue. While such reassurance is absent, it is ridiculous for social media pundits to decide that concerned Saint Lucians are simply engaging in “conspiracy theories” and are “playing politics” when some citizens express concern that the Hospital Ship may be conducting experiments on Black people in the Caribbean. Is the government asleep at the wheel? Is the Minister of Health on vacation? If so, where is her Permanent Secretary?

With regard to the various issues preceding a visit of such a Hospital Ship to Saint Lucia, here is what my research with a top medical professional has unearthed: (a) Before such a Medical Ship undertakes any work or procedures in our Saint Lucian jurisdiction, it must be made clear that it is bound by our laws for registration and practice of medicine, in much the same way as our local medical practitioners are bound by our laws for registration and practice; (b) Issues of credentials and safety have to be properly cleared, and in a properly transparent manner; (c) The necessary due diligence and scrutiny of certificate for authentication of the Hospital Ship, are the purview of the Saint Lucia Medical Council, unless the Cabinet of Ministers has issued special alternative considerations. Such special considerations would still be ultra vires if they were given; (d) There must also be a well established chain of continuity as to who is responsible for any unintended outcomes arising out of the operations and interventions of the Hospital Ship; (e) Who is officially responsible for follow-up actions with treated patients after the departure of the Hospital Ship. These issues, and more, must all have been officially addressed before the green light can be properly given to the Hospital Ship. We will never enjoy the respect of the international community until we demonstrate such levels of professional engagement and good governance, concerning such initiatives as the United States Hospital Ship. All the above point to the need for the government of Saint Lucia to wake up from its apparent sleep and slumber and properly address Saint Lucians as required by the present situation. And these analysed circumstances expose the tragic irresponsibility of the social pundits who are asking Saint Lucians to just throw their hands into the air, say “thank you America”, and walk into the Hospital Ship. At September 2019, in the belly of the 21st century, my people, the people of Saint Lucia, deserve much better than this.

Saint Lucia and America have been cordial neighbours in this Western Hemisphere for as long as I can remember. Our experience has shown however that the United States of America has always been more concerned about its “interests” than its “friends”. But that having been said, our bilateral relations have been mostly cordial. In any case, “The Eagle” normally doesn’t give a damn about us in the sub-region, until it hears some uncommon noise, or until it hears that revolution is in the air. At a time when the Oval Office is occupied by President Donald Trump, the least Saint Lucians can do is demand that their government, and their medical authorities in particular, in this matter at hand, do the right thing, and give Saint Lucian taxpayers the respect that we deserve. The government of Saint Lucia must properly address the people of Saint Lucia in this matter!

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