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Statement from Chief Medical Officer – Public Health Update 2023

Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Sharon Belmar-George
Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Sharon Belmar-George

During the year 2022, the health system managed a wide range of health programmes and diseases. This ranged from COVID-19 to our regular annual infections and chronic non- communicable diseases.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Saint Lucia experienced a total of six waves, with a total of 15, 665 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 2022 (a 14.5% increase from 2021); of these 1068 cases fit the definition of a reinfection. The age group 25-49 years has been the most affected throughout the pandemic (comprising  51% of the total cases), with females accounting for 57% of these cases. For the period January 2020- January 05, 2022, 409 deaths were reported, giving a case fatality rate of 1.4%. The overall vaccination rate for the population remains at 30% which is below the required threshold to minimize the spread of the virus.

The Ministry of Health is closely monitoring the emergence of new variants and sub variants of COVID-19 and will continue to keep the public updated.

In addition to COVID-19, there are other respiratory viruses in circulation which may have similar clinical presentation to as COVID-19. In several countries, there has been a steep increase in cases of influenza and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). During the last three months of 2022, a spike was noted in children less than five years of age presenting with respiratory signs and symptoms. We have since noted a reduction in these cases.

We also noted two new cases of Tuberculosis reported in 2022 in comparison to three new cases in 2021. The Ministry of Health continues to work to maintain a low incidence of vector-borne diseases as was reflected by a decline of 62% in dengue cases in 2022 (15 cases compared to 39 cases in 2021). We continue to record approximately 1 to 2 malaria cases annually with all the cases being imported cases. To date, there has been no local transmission of malaria cases. A total of eight cases of leptospirosis were reported in 2022. There were seven cases of Leprosy in 2022, as compared to eight cases in the previous year.

The increasing impact of violence and injuries due to crime and motor vehicular accidents on the hospital system and blood bank resources is also of concern. Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) continue to be a significant cause of death in Saint Lucia, with cancers, cerebrovascular disease/stroke, heart disease and Diabetes dominating as the top 4 causes of death respectively for the last 10 years. Males accounting for 56% of all NCD deaths in 2020.

Cancers account for about one in every five deaths (20%) in 2020. The main cancers affecting men remains prostate cancer & breast cancer for women on our country.

Despite this, males are losing more of their potential contribution to society due to: • Assault • Land transport accidents and • Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease (specifically COPD) due to smoking Females are losing more of their potential to society due to: • Cancer (breast and cervical in particular) and • Perinatal Conditions (specific to newborns)

Guided by the trends noted over the last five years and the data from the Behaviour Risk Factor Survey carried out in 2019, Primary care/preventative health strengthening remains a major focus for the Ministry of Health. We continue to note low levels of health screening, increases in obesity, low fruit and vegetable intake and limited physical activity among our population.

Programmes to improve on preventative strategies such as the adoption of healthy lifestyles, early detection and screening will be further strengthened to support the adoption of behaviours to improve the health status of our citizens.

The Universal Health Coverage strategy, health system strengthening project and Results Based Financing Project will support the implementation of these programs in 2023.

The Ministry of Health encourages all individuals, communities and organisations to partner with us in promoting health and maintaining healthy habits. Together, we can make significant strides in reducing the burden of ill  health on our country.

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