By Loshaun Dixon
The opening of a new Oncology Centre at the Joseph N France General Hospital (JNF) on Tuesday Dec. 6 marked the dawn of a new era of health care in St. Kitts and Nevis.
At a ceremony to open the facility Medical Chief of Staff and head Surgeon at the Hospital Dr. Cameron Wilkinson said that while the road ahead for cancer patients may seem daunting the federation is making significant strides with the opening of a facility to fight the dreaded disease.
“I am in my 20th year working at this institution and in that time,” said Dr. Wilkinson.“I have seen us done a lot with little and I have seen us made significant progress in the quality of care and the services we offer to the people we serve here at the JNF Hospital and the other health institutions.”
Wilkinson said that for years they were over-loaded with an increasing number of cancer patients,” he explained.“Despite gains in diagnostic capabilities access to oncologic care was still an issue.”
When diagnosed with cancer, patients would normally travel to Barbados, Trinidad, Puerto Rico and the United States to be treated,” he said.
“Few could afford the expense and did well,” the doctor explained. “Some got assistance and received full or partial treatment. Some, however, could not afford to travel and expired due to their disease. Some who travelled found it daunting because this was a traumatic experience.”
The surgeon indicated they were often forced to make tough decisions in prioritising who received help first.
“Young versus the old, stage two versus stage four disease,” Wilkinson said.
He said the opening of the Oncology Centre signals the dawn of a new and brighter day for cancer care in St. Kitts and Nevis.
“This centre will add years to the lives of people living with cancer,” Dr. Wilkinson explained. “This centre will ensure bread winners not simply succumb to their diseases but continue their active lives while they receive their appropriate and timely treatment.”
The Medical Chief of Staff added that the new addition will ensure that no one will die because they cannot afford to travel overseas for treatment.
“This is because starting this week, we will be treating patients with common malignancies we see here, breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, thyroid cancer and several types of leukaemia.”
Junior Minister with responsibility for Health Wendy Phipps said every individual in St. Kitts and Nevis has been touched by cancer in one way or another.
“It has no respect of a person’s social status age gender,” Phipps explained. “I am sure all of us know someone who has either suffered from cancer…or you have had to watch somebody face death when medication was not an option.”
Phipps said her family has had multiple cancer victims.
“I know it is a heart-breaking experience to go through, especially when you did all you could, prayed all you could, tried all you could …later you pray that the person has as little pain as possible and that the end will come quickly,” she said.
Eighty three percent of deaths in the Federation are due to chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs)with cancer responsible for 45per cent.
“Hopefully today witnesses the dawning of a new era in the delivery of health care and our response to non-communicable diseases,” Phipps said.
The Junior Minister of Health disclosed that NCDs are a major problem for the Caribbean region and a response is needed to address these issues.
“Our response in St. Kitts and Nevis is evident in the opening of the Oncology Centre and in the increase of budget allocation in the procurement of oncology drugs largely through the support of the OECS Pool Procurement on Pharmaceuticals and through the PAHO pool procurement system.”
Phipps added that investments in health education and promotion to ensure a non-reliance on reactive approaches to cancer but preventative ones.
Phipps said, “I would much rather see us get to the point where we spend more of our resources on health promotion and health education and preservation of a high quality of life than in salvaging or desperately trying to save lives after the fact.”
Minister of Health the Hon Eugene Hamilton commented the opening of the Oncology Centre is an accomplishment in chronic disease management.
He added the by the mid-1980s St. Kitts and Nevis along with the wider Caribbean experienced a transition in their health profile.
“Death from diarrhoea, dehydration, pneumonia, meningitis, diseases from open sores…all that reseeded,” Hamilton said. “While healthcare professionals may claim a victory for that, closer examinations of all the factors show that it was a region that had matured.”
Hamilton noted that period brought better socio-economic standards for St. Kitts and Nevis that caused lifestyles to change.
“The imported can foods with their preservatives replaced our upland crops,” Hamilton explained. “Beef, fast food including KFC later replaced our back yard fowl. Imported eggs became superior to eggs produced under the house or in the Garden.”
Although infectious diseases declined during these lifestyle changes, Hamilton said they were replaced by chronic diseases associated with diet and sex.
He stated that the prevalence of gastro intestinal cancers in both genders in the federation derive from what is eaten or what we drink.
Hamilton attributed the causes to consuming too many substances, falling asleep and becoming obese, stopping exercising, drinking too much alcohol and then NCDs take their toll on our bodies.
In feature remarks Prime Minister Dr. Timothy Harris hailed those in the health sector who have taken it forward and upward.
“I want to thank ministers Eugene Hamilton and Wendy Phipps for their leadership in the Health Ministry. I know each of them is committed to the cause of service and ensuring they play their small part in advancing the agenda for all of our people.”
The Prime Minister slammed those creating tensions in the health sector for the government sourcing nurses from the Philippines.
“Ultimately, as a small country with a mere 50,000 souls, you will never have enough resident manpower locally and home-grown to satisfy the difficult task of national development,” Dr. Harris stated passionately. “No small country has and no large country has up to today been able to do it.”
“That is why healthcare needs all of us and it doesn’t matter if you are from Cuba or the Philippines, I say welcome to service.”
He also revealed that local nurses will receive overtime payments.
“Some of us in healthcare and other sectors believe that we are overworked and underpaid, and some of you are I admit. In the 2017 budget we are going to make a special provision for nurses and other healthcare people to get overtime payment.”
Following the ceremony Dr. Harris and both Ministers of Health cut the ribbon to signify the official opening of the facility ad were then given tours by the nurses who are set to work in that area.
On Monday the Ministry of Health also opened a state of the art Mental Health Facility in Lime Kiln.