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Healthcare transformation the focus of ECCB’s 7th Growth and Resilience Dialogue

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by Kevon Browne

St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): Resilience begins with health and personal responsibility because without investments in the health of human capital, a country cannot withstand, absorb or move forward from shocks, according to the Governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB), Timothy NJ Antoine.

“What will it take to double the size of our economies over the next decade? What will it take to double the size of our GDP? St. Kitts and Nevis, it’s 3 billion EC; if you go across the currency union is 21 billion. So how could we get from three to six of our 21 to 42 over, say, the next decade? That’s a question that we will continue to visit throughout this year and going forward because we have to answer. But what I will say is that key to doing that big push is our health. Because at the end of the day, resilience begins with personal resilience – our health – and human capital is at the core, and health is key to maintain our human capital.”

He continued, “And by the way, I always say about resilience – What is resilience? It is our capacity to withstand shocks, absorb shocks and bounce forward, not back, forward. Because every crisis, every shock must have a legacy that allows us to be better than we were before the pandemic. Better than where we were before the hurricane. Better than we were before the global financial crisis. That’s a key part of how we build resilience in this region and transform this region. And ultimately, as we say in our vision, we don’t just want to strive; we want to thrive, and that starts with the health of our people.”

The ECCB Governor made those remarks during the Central Bank’s 7th Growth and Resilience Dialogue, which started on April 25 and is expected to end on April 26.

The ECCB), The OECS Commission, The World Bank, and The University of the West Indies (UWI) are hosting the two-day dialogue under the theme, “An Appropriate and sustainable model for health care in the ECCU/OECS – Agile Infrastructure, Traditional Medicine, and Medicinal Cannabis.”

Governor Antoine lamented the state of personal responsibility men take regarding healthcare.

“As a region, we must invest in primary health to save lives and livelihoods. Indeed, that is productive for families, for public finances, for our foreign reserves and our economy. I want to be very clear, in investing in primary healthcare, we have to invest in diagnostic facilities to support early detection and treatment, but we must also, of necessity, and this is important, take personal responsibility for our health. That includes healthy eating, active lifestyles and a commitment, a culture of checkups, medical checkups. Too often, we resist doing these medical checks, and I’m happy that the prize is a medical check. And some of you will say give me the money in me hand – well, your health is more important than money at this point. Because too often we defer and we delay, and many times when we do it, it’s only because of our woman – our wives, our partners, our mothers insist that we go to the doctor and get checked and far too often when we finally arrived at the doctor’s door, stage one, stage two, stage three, stage four, and then we are going round with a bowl in our hand trying to raise money for our stage four situation. It breaks my heart. It breaks my heart to see this happen over and over again in our member countries, and therefore, the culture of taking personal responsibility also has to be spoken of even as our governments invest in primary healthcare.”

Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, Hon. Dr Terrance Drew, in his remarks on Day one of the dialogue, also spoke to the need for Universal Healthcare as a measure to curb the financial pressures of private health insurance, which could add to the lack of health insurance coverage for the most vulnerable.

“We are currently in the midst of an extensive consultative process and moving swiftly towards operationalising a national health insurance scheme, which will offer tremendous financial benefits to our people. That, again, is part of building a resilient and sustainable system. A lot of people across our sub-region do not have health insurance. And as a result of that, you know what the outcome is – earlier death, lack of treatment that they could have had otherwise. And those things not only affect the health of individuals and communities, but they affect our economies as well, because of loss [in] years of productivity – the economists, they know better than me that that would have a tremendous negative impact on the growth of any economy. COVID-19 has taught us that enough well-trained human resources for health is required to respond to any public health threat. However, we need to grasp the latest technologies to enhance its offering to attract other persons into the profession.”

Part of the discussion is the need for a more holistic approach to medicine by incorporating traditional/indigenous medicines into the healthcare systems.

“Our healthcare providers tend to be more oriented into modern medicine and should also be sensitized to the role of traditional medicine because the typical patient often has a different worldview to that of nurses and doctors. How many times we are told as doctors, “Well, I stop taking the blood pressure pill, and I’m taking the bush.” It is a common thing in St. Kitts and Nevis. I support the call for more research in this area to inform how traditional medicine can effectively interface with modern medicine during the pandemic witnessed firsthand the benefits of the collaboration both forms of medicinal practices, modern and traditional, to combat the symptoms of COVID-19. For example, the blend of turmeric, ginger and lemon juice for its anti-inflammatory effect and to help boost the immune system.”

One medicinal herb traditionally known for its health benefits is Cannabis, and the opportunity for use in local medicine and like St. Vincent and the Grenadines, could be exported to the economic benefit of the Federation. But investments are needed to build out and Cannabis industry in line with international health regulations.

“Research has underscored the therapeutic benefits of cannabinoids – cannabinoids is the fancy name for cannabis, marijuana, ganja as we call it in the sub-region. And we, therefore, welcome the Third Plenary Session – we anticipate regional data on the uses of cannabis along with hearing about the best practices in establishing a medicinal cannabis industry. I can see that St. Vincent in the OECS has already shipped medicinal cannabis to Germany and that St. Vincent has a lab that is already approved, approved by the EU system where once their cannabis is tested to be safe in St. Vincent; it is allowed to be shipped into the EU. So there’s already some advancement in our sub-region. In St. Kitts and Nevis, we intend to develop such an industry and hope to partner with our colleagues in this regard.”

The objectives of this Dialogue include, but are not limited to, the following:

1. Convening a high-level meeting of the key strategic partners and influencers on issues common to healthcare resilience.

2. Sharing presentations from key social partners and specialists that can contribute to policy formulation and advance initiatives on healthcare resilience.

3. Development of national, regional and international networks to advance the region’s healthcare transformation agenda.

4. Catalyzing a research initiative on ‘the cost of health care in the ECCU/OECS and the way forward’ involving academia and public and private collaborations that can redound to the benefit of health care resilience initiatives in the ECCU/OECS.

Day two will feature a Virtual Health Expo showcasing new technologies in Healthcare, Technology in Healthcare Education: New Developments in Medical Simulation and Digital Anatomy and more.

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