Nov. 11, 2005 Investment in healthcare services and education can stimulate the Caribbean economy, according to Prime Minister Denzil Douglas of St. Kitts and Nevis.
Douglas spoke on the topic at a panel discussion for the 10th Annual Caribbean Multi-National Business Conference held Friday at the Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort. Douglas said St. Kitts and Nevis in particular is doing well with medical education by establishing universities and other institutions dedicated to nursing and medicine in general.
"Not only does this keep the community from being adversely affected by the nursing shortage worldwide, but it helps stimulate the economy by creating jobs," he said.
The islands government also passed a law that states individuals in the community have to provide housing for students, instead of them staying in dormitories. This facilitates community involvement between future caregivers and patients, Douglas said, and allows for continuing expenditure in the local economy.
"Its really about looking at healthcare from different angles," he said, adding that maintaining a healthy population of residents comes first in sustaining the development of the Caribbean region. "Good healthcare means that our children can grow up and make decisions for our future. It means that our residents now can contribute to various advancements; can remain strong and maintain in intellectual capacity and capability in society."
St. Kitts and Nevis also has a strong community education program on prevalent diseases in Caribbean society, particularly HIV and AIDS.
Shifting gears to focus more on the territory, Dr. Jacqueline Hoop-Sinicrope spoke briefly about what is being done to help supply health insurance to people who cant afford it. As costs associated with running a business increase, employers are cutting down on benefits such as healthcare coverage, she said.
"This has lead to a 73 percent rise in insurance premiums in the past year, leaving about 24 percent of our population uninsured," Hoop-Sinicrope said.
Furthermore, uninsured residents generally dont have enough money to pay for medical service. That cost is then passed on to the hospital or residents who are insured, Hoop-Sinicrope said. To solve these problems, she said she is helping Gov. Charles W. Turnbull work on a territorial insurance plan. Under ths plan, employers who dont offer health insurance can team up to buy a policy for employees.
She said premiums for adults would be in the range of $150 to $160 a month, with up to three dependent children costing $60 each per month. There would be no additional charge for more than three children, she said. The deductibles would be $250 per individual or $750 per family. The benefits would extend to off-island health care providers, but the share of the costs the insurance company would pay would be reduced.
The plan hinges on the Virgin Islands government kicking in $10 million to, among other things, set up a premium assistance program that would allow low- and some moderate-income private sector workers to enroll in the plan.
Rodney Miller, chief executive officer for Schneider Regional Medical Center, said the Virgin Islands could also capitalize on the number of people visiting the territory by offering top quality facilities.
"That way, people dont have to travel to places like India or Venezuela to get treatment, operations, medicine, for lower prices," he said. "By building the right facilities here, we ensure that our residents are taken care of and our visitors can receive healthcare if needed in an attractive and fully functioning setting."
Miller added that facilities, such as the Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Institute on St. Thomas and the new cardiac center on St. Croix, will provide patients with top-quality service from experienced, competent doctors using top-of-the-line equipment and technology.
However, he said there are problems with finding the professionals necessary to staff the facilities, as there are nationwide shortages in nurses and other medical professionals. Miller said the territory should emulate St. Kitts and Nevis by setting up medical schools, which can train students and keep them in the territory.
Collaboration between islands could also help some of the problem, Miller said. This means other Caribbean areas could help provide training, staff, or services that help everyone in the region. Miller explained that if one island offered a particular medical service, then people could travel within the Caribbean to receive that service, and vice versa.
Miller also said that since "too many people are dying in the V.I" from diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, or HIV and AIDS, there is a need to develop local research labs that could conduct clinical trials on medicines and the way certain diseases impact people in the territory.
"Maybe that way we can actively work on finding a cure for some of the things which plague us," he said.
Basil C. Halliday, president and CEO for Diversified Multi-Cultural Healthcare Research Services Inc., said his job is to do just that. A St. Thomian, Halliday said the problem was when he returned to the island after attending school on the mainland he was told by other residents to go back to the States.
"There was nothing here for me," he said. "I wanted to come back and help my community, and there are several others out there, living in the U.S., who want to come home and help. But theres no industry for what we do here. There was no one who wanted to welcome us back."
At the end of Fridays forum, however, Miller said he would work with Halliday, who said the territory does currently have the resources to establish facilities for conducting clinical trials.
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