After much discourse over the years on a national issue of significant proportions –health authorities here have disclosed government’s plans to initiate the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) policy programme on the island.
Health and Wellness Minister Moses Jn. Baptiste said the UHC programme was a ‘manifesto’ promise that the St Lucia Labour Party (SLP) administration made to the people.
He said government was quite pleased to be taking the initial steps to implement this health policy and to get this ‘much touted’ programme underway.
“Universal Health Care basically means that we want to increase access to quality health care to all people of St Lucia, without making them poorer or without causing them to spend too much more money out of their pockets,” declared Jn. Baptiste.
“When our people access our healthcare, they should not feel the additional pressures,” he said. “They should not feel that they have to spend a larger percentage of their budget on healthcare. They should feel that they are able to afford healthcare and they should feel that they can access the services of healthcare throughout the country.”
Jn. Baptiste adds that over the years several studies have been conducted in St Lucia, along with consultations and input from local healthcare professionals. He said, for a long time now people have ‘been dreaming about the UHC’ programme being implemented on the island.
The minister added, “And so, the implementation of Universal Health Care, while not a new dream …we are hoping as a government we can take the concrete steps to make Universal Health Coverage a reality in the future.”
He said despite the challenges posed with the implementation of the UHC programme, the planning must be thorough and “our commitment must be intense and the financing of it must be assured.”
Jn. Baptiste said government remains “realistic” towards this cause and as a result, they have taken the decision after consulting with health professionals “to implement the Universal Healthcare Coverage (UHC) in a step-by-step way and that we are going to phase the implementation”.
He added that the authorities want to ensure that when the programme rolls out “we are certain about our steps, and we have researched our steps.”
Noting that the UHC programme is regarded as a priority issue, the minister stated: “Because we want a healthy people, and we want a healthy country. As a government we want to create the atmosphere where our people yearn for and work towards wellness from young people to older people to the elderly.”
Jn. Baptiste asserted: “We know that healthy people translate to productive people and to happy people. And we are saddened every time we hear of someone who passes away because of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), diabetes, hypertension, and the likes.”
He assured that government expects “all of our team members” to do the best they can, as it is proven that “a good Universal Healthcare programme” will impact the entire health sector due to the activities and the processes that entails.
The minister notes that there must be constant dialogue and networking with “the primary and secondary (health) sectors, with hospitals, health and wellness centres, and with all healthcare practitioners, in addition to the general population.”
Jn. Baptiste declared, “When we do our job well, the whole healthcare sector will be impacted positively.”
UHC Director, Dr. Alisha Eugene-Ford explained that the objective of the UHC programme is to ensure that “everyone receives the needed healthcare, where and when they need it without going through financial hardships or ruin.”
She said lots of work has been undertaken in Saint Lucia towards bringing the UHC policy to the fore, and a working group was formed. The group involving persons from the public service and the private sector have collaborated on the presentation of a “white paper”, which translates to a road map and “putting everything together of what we have done before and what is happening right now in St Lucia to ensure that we have a road map to Universal Health Coverage.”
Dr. Eugene –Ford disclosed that from October 25 to 27, the ministry will convene a ‘wide conference’ meeting where individuals from countries that have experimented with the UHC concept “and have done well so far …and others that have attained UHC to be on island with us and to give us the experience so we can get some lessons from them so as to get UHC in St Lucia.”
She said countries such as Jamaica, Belize, Columbia will attend the upcoming meeting, and as well Korea. St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) will also participate in the meeting, as that island is also seeking to implement the UHC policy.
The health official explained that “it would be an interactive session where we’ll be learning from others, so we get to the point where we have UHC in St Lucia.”
Speaking to the Performance Based Financing – Health Systems Strengthening Project [HSSP], she said, there are lessons to be learnt from that ‘pilot project’ and further services for St Lucia.
Dr. Eugene Forde said services such as maternal healthcare services will also be addressed to afford women to undertake more “blood tests”, and “screening for some cancers” added to the complications stemming from hypertension and diabetes.
The health official stressed the importance of a coordinated approach “to ensure that we give the public the services that they need.”
Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Jenny Daniel said, the ministry has launched the initial stages towards the implementation of UHC on the island.
“Universal Healthcare Coverage in St Lucia would have attained when all individuals from all communities receive the services that they need without suffering financial hardships,” she explained.
Daniel asserted: “Universal Health Coverage speaks to the accessibility of care, quality of healthcare services and equality in the delivery of the services with a focus on operative healthcare.”