Today is World Health Day, a global health awareness day celebrated every year on 7thof April under the sponsorship of the World Health Organization (WHO). However, today’s celebration is a milestone because the World Health Organization is observing its 75th birthday. The World Health Organization (WHO) was founded 75 years ago, to promote health, serve the vulnerable and keep the world safe. Today, we should reflect on all the public health successes that improved our life expectancy and quality of life over the past decades. As a collective, we hope that today’s activities will motivate us to tackle the current health challenges and ensure “Health for All”.
The theme for today’s celebration is: “Health for All”. “Health for All” infers that all people have good health to lead fulfilling lives in a peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable world (WHO, 2023). Let us always remember that health is a fundamental human right. Everyone in our Federation should have access to health services when and where they need them without financial hardship. Everyone means all 53,000 (52,758) persons, based on the recently completed population census 2021.
I personally believe in these ideals. Therefore, universal health coverage is a political and social imperative. Universal health coverage (UHC) is a priority for this government. The team is working assiduously to determine the financing mechanisms needed to support the implementation of a sustainable national health insurance scheme.
In St. Kitts & Nevis, the fight against non-communicable diseases (NCDs) is real. The NCDs, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer are major contributors to morbidity and mortality and major obstacles to our attaining “Health for All”. Under my leadership the Ministry of Health (MOH) has strengthened the Health Promotion Unit by recruiting a communications personnel and acquiring new production equipment. The MOH has scaled up its public education and health promotion campaigns using all media platforms to encourage healthy lifestyle, prevention, and control of NCDs, screening, early detection and treatment of cancers. The Ministry of Health hosts outreach screening sessions in workplaces and communities to identify persons with NCDs and link them to care. In 2022, the MOH has conducted 138 outreach screening sessions in the Federation and 6,348 persons were screened. The Ministry of Health (MOH) conducts NCD clinics to provide comprehensive, integrated care for persons living with diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, kidney disease and other chronic conditions.
The oncology unit at JNF General Hospital has been operational for six years now. In February, a class 3 biosafety cabinet was installed, commissioned, and certified to facilitate offering of cytotoxic chemotherapy regimens to cancer patients in a safe environment.
Emerging infectious diseases like COVID-19 had an unprecedented impact on the health system, and the lives and livelihoods of our people. COVID -19 alone significantly delayed our progress towards “Health for All”. Re -emerging diseases like norovirus is the pathogen causing the current gastroenteritis outbreak. This was confirmed through laboratory testing of samples sent off to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA). We are all responsible for playing our part in controlling this outbreak by practicing proper hand hygiene. Other re-emerging diseases like chikungunya and zika are circulating in Latin America and the Caribbean, and it is just a matter of time before we are affected. The Ministry of Health has scaled up its vector control activities to mitigate this impact. Poliomyelitis is a vaccine preventable diseases, however, a few cases have been identified in the Region of the Americas. The Ministry of Health continues to invest resources in the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) to maintain its high vaccination coverage rates.
As Minister of Health, I am committed to getting the Federation back on track to attaining, “Health for All”. This is evident based on the accomplishments attained within the Ministry of Health during the first seven (7) months of my tenure as Prime Minister and Minister of Health and these include:
- Life support training of over 250 health care workers.
- Leadership training for all doctors working in government service along with nurse managers.
- Surveys are being conducted to inform curriculum for the customer service training program for staff at JNF General Hospital.
- Recruitment of additional specialists to increase the scope of services offered at JNF General Hospital including – one neurologist, one urologist, and a vascular surgeon.
- Recruitment of additional specialists – an additional psychiatrist, an additional radiologist, and two additional internal medicine specialists.
- Procurement of medical equipment including: MRI machine purchased, EEG machine purchased, new cataract equipment purchased, automated urinalysis machine at JNF laboratory and two Firapy machines to improve patency of fistulas for patients on dialysis.
- Establishment of a Case Management Unit at JNF General Hospital to process international patients including tourists from cruise ships.
- JNF General Hospital was accredited as a Baby Friendly Hospital in December 2022. First success along the path to full accreditation of the Hospital.
We have accomplished much, however, it’s a journey, and we still have work to be done. I reaffirm my commitment to health sector improvement. The ultimate goal is to ensure the health and wellbeing of my people. Let us work together to attain “Health for All!”