Preventative healthcare in The Bahamas
The Member of Parliament for Elizabeth and Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands gave an informative and detailed account of the management of his portfolio and plans for the year ahead. The minister is focused on a mission to improve the health of Bahamians.
He provided a surgical distribution of the 12 percent of the national budget allocated for existing commitments: health infrastructure, the recruitment of over 100 new healthcare professionals including doctors, nurses, dentists and laboratory technicians and the implementation of targeted health initiatives such as the South Beach Clinic being operational seven days a week from 8 a.m. to midnight.
The Bahamas maintains 57 health clinics in the Family Islands and an additional 12 located throughout New Providence, nearly all of which require repairs. It is inexcusable that there are many vacancies for doctors in many Family Islands. A preference for Bahamian doctors should not result in no doctor being posted.
The minister spoke to the stubborn obstacles to good health outcomes in The Bahamas, that is, the persistent poor lifestyle choices of the majority of Bahamians.
He informs that as much as 79 percent of the general population is overweight, close to 50 percent are obese and more than 70 percent lack regular exercise; and that far too many people continue to abuse alcohol, to smoke and to partake in risky sexual activities.
Clearly additional and more modern hospitals, clinics, and equipment, more doctors, nurses and health professionals, and more medicine will not cure our decisions to be inactive and to eat unhealthy, sweet, fatty and carbohydrate-rich foods.
Our morbidity and mortality rates are high; infant mortality rates are stubbornly and disappointingly so.
The minister noted a fall in infant mortality to 16 per thousand live births in 2016 but did not comment on the fact that infant mortality in 2016 was substantially higher than in 2001. Why is that so? It appears to us that programs in place during the 1990s that helped to reduce the infant mortality rate by half, from 24 per thousand live births to 12 per thousand, fell by the wayside.
Clearly adequate attention is not being paid by senior physicians to public antenatal and postnatal care. And clearly there is a need for more highly trained midwives in our clinics.
The minister reports that the number one cause of death of a Bahamian male is a bullet. Traffic accidents add to the number of violent deaths in the country. And to those numbers must be added the number of lost limbs and other disfigurements as a result of reckless, impaired and inattentive drivers on our roadways.
That non-communicable diseases are at epidemic levels in The Bahamas is hardly surprising. That we have failed to bring the transmission of the HIV/AIDS virus to an irreducible level is disheartening.
Obese and overweight people suffer in higher numbers than others from heart disease, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, high blood pressure and strokes. And all of these conditions are killing Bahamians daily.
All add to the cost of healthcare. All negatively impact our health statistics.
The minister’s goals are laudable but he will need more than surgical skills to achieve his objectives with the resources currently available to him.