A Euro 14 million loan facility granted by the European Union (EU) to help Saint Lucia grapple with the after effects of Covid-19, in managing its healthcare policy is being cited as a “landmark operation”.
At a press briefing, Monday, Vice-President of the European Investment Bank (EIB), Ricardo Mourinho Felix apprised reporters of this latest development.
The EIB official said the EU was committed to working with the Caribbean in the ‘best interest’ of the people, while vast sums of money is being expended towards providing efficient healthcare for Saint Lucia and the wider region.
“After the pandemic, it became clear that we needed to have resilient health systems that can weather these kinds of events that a small country will face sooner or later … and to remain committed to the key role that we have as the EU climate bank in the transition to a green and carbon-free economy,” Felix said.
According to the EIB official, though the Caribbean is one of the lowest emitters of greenhouse gas, nonetheless, it is an issue that significantly impacts the region.
“We are committed to work with the Caribbean countries in adaptation, so we can have resilient infrastructure that can resist the impact of climate change that unfortunately, is materializing in this part of the world,” he added.
Referring to the loan payment agreement, Felix said, the EIB extended the loan for “quite a protractive period”, and in fact, “under COVID we went beyond board from what we usually do”.
He explained that the EU usually funds the project with a maturity for tenure “that is aligned to the physical life of the asset refunds”.
Felix said for this development, the EU was committed to go beyond the regulatory procedures “because we feel that it is important to support countries in rebuilding infrastructures and do not over-stress the physical conditions in the country.”
He noted that the funds must be utilized in the health care sector to rebuild resilience for the future, and to build “better hospitals, better diagnoses and to build a system that is better interconnected and has better technology, facing this pandemic …or future pandemic events.”
Minister for Health and Wellness Moses Jn. Baptiste stated that the loan will assist government in undertaking the COVID-19 challenges, especially the finances.
Said Jn. Baptiste: “The interventions, which will be supported under this line of credit include the following, strengthening of the Ezra Long Laboratory through expansion of the lab to accommodate the blood bank and other services , as well as , the provision of key equipment and supplies.”
The minister added , “We are also going to improve our isolation capacity through the construction of two isolation facilities , one in the north and one in the south of Saint Lucia.
“We are going to expand the Gros Islet Polyclinic to incorporate a ‘respiratory clinic’ and to restore critical primary health services, which were affected as a result of the respiratory clinic that was situated at the clinic.”
The works will also include the expansion of the primary health care facilities at Gros Islet and other communities, while supporting the central procurement “in terms of the timely distribution of medical supplies across the island, as well as, storage of supplies and material at the respiratory hospital.”
Jn. Baptise said the funds will assist with the expenditure for COVID centres and the expenditure for the respiratory hospital.
In acknowledging the EU’s support, the minister stated that the loan was “timely and it will certainly assist us with our challenges.”
Quizzed about the loan input into the Universal Health Care programme, Jn. Baptiste commented that, “Universal Health is very important to us…and it is a priority of this government and strengthening especially of the primary health care.”
He noted that the strengthening of primary health care and health and wellness centres “will ensure that we improve the quality of services in the primary health care area…and clearly, this fits well into our universal health care objective.”
The health minister also brought into focus the human resource factor prevalent in the region and in Saint Lucia concerning the demand for more nurses and nursing practitioners in the health care services sector.
Jn. Baptiste said that while the loan has some specific objectives and purposes, government is set on working with social partners such as the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College [SALCC] to discuss various modalities, “which will cause us to increase the number of nurses who are being trained at the SALCC …and we are continuing discussions with the SALCC and there will be other institutions which will be brought into the discussions so that we can increase the number of nurses.”
He asserted, “This is where we have a significant drain on our services and we are looking at it very seriously.”
Recently, the authorities undertook the ‘formal handing over’ of a number of health centres to the health sector and the minister feels the funds will help distribute more comprehensive health services across the country.
He said the loan will allow the authorities to improve some of the physical structures around Saint Lucia, to complement last week’s handing over of several SMART facilities or Strengthening Health Care Facilities in the Caribbean Project.
Noting that the activities of the EU is moving towards a “greener environment”, where climate change is taken into account, Jn. Baptiste stressed: “We are going to use the proceeds of that loan to assist us in that regard.”
The health minister further disclosed that while the loan will not be directed specifically into the renovation of infrastructural works at the St Jude Hospital, the loan will assist with the provision of “lab services, medical supplies and all of the services and procurement …and deliverables will be spread across the health sector, and St Jude (Hospital) will benefit.”