Minister of Health, the Hon Akilah Byron-Nisbett, listens as Medical Chief of Staff at JNF General Hospital Dr Cameron Wilkinson updates members of the public on COVID-19 vaccinations. (Photos by Peter Ngũnjiri)

BASSETERRE, St. Kitts — St. Kitts and Nevis is one of the very few countries in the world that have put measures in place which have successfully contained the spread of COVID-19, but the Ministry of Health is assuring that the success is not at the expense of government’s efforts to eradicating non-communicable diseases.

“If I have COVID-19, I get into your space, you get COVID-19,” observed Minister of Health the Hon. Akilah Byron-Nisbett. “You can get sick, you can die. It is the measures that we are taking, wearing our masks, and social distancing is what is stopping the spread of it as rapidly as it can be spread, so we got to understand that.”

The Hon. Byron-Nisbett, who was addressing a COVID-19 Vaccination Information Session held at the Bronte Welsh Primary School in West Basseterre on March 3, noted that St. Kitts and Nevis is not seeing the spread of COVID-19 as it is happening in the rest of the world where people face the possibility of dying from it faster than they can die from a non-communicable disease.

“However, the efforts to contain non-communicable diseases are continuing, because for non-communicable diseases it is a lifestyle change that is required,” pointed out Byron-Nisbett. She noted that NCDs can be put on check by eating right, exercising, and having regular check-ups.

Byron-Nisbett made the statement in response to a question posed by a member of the public who wanted to know why so much attention was being given to the COVID-19 pandemic while there were more people dying from non-communicable diseases.

“You heard about SKN Moves initiative that Ministry of Health have?” the minister asked. “We do it every single year where we encourage persons to exercise, eat right and have regular check-ups. We have walks for SKN Moves – the Prime Minister has a monthly walk, and it is part of the SKN Moves initiative, and we try to get persons to change their lifestyles.”

Medical Chief of Staff at the JNF General Hospital, Dr. Cameron Wilkinson, who was the featured speaker at the session, echoed the minister’s sentiments. He posited that the questioner was making an assumption that the Ministry is not dealing with the NCDs with a case urgency, saying that by getting rid of COVID-19, they will be able to continue to focus on the non-communicable diseases that are killing persons.

“The thing about a non-communicable disease, though, is you can decide you are going to exercise, eat healthy, and control your hypertension and not drop down dead from hypertension,” said Dr. Wilkinson. “But COVID-19, that lady can come and give you a bottle of water that is contaminated, you put it to your nose and mouth you come down with COVID-19 and you are dead in three/four/five days and that is the difference.”

Answering to a question whether persons who would have taken the vaccine will still be required to quarantine, Dr. Wilkinson said: “The quarantine period will only change when most of us do the right thing – the persons who can be vaccinated, take the vaccine. That is why it is important for all of us who can take the vaccine we go forward and take it.”

According to Dr. Wilkinson, those taking two doses will still have to quarantine when they come into the country until such time that between 33,000 and 36,000 persons are vaccinated, the number that will give St. Kitts and Nevis the herd immunity status.

The Hon. Byron-Nisbett, Area Parliamentary Representative for St. Christopher Three (West Basseterre) and also minister of ICT, Entertainment, Entrepreneurship and Talent Development, was pleaded with her constituents to sign up to go and take the vaccine.

“I have a question: who will be willing to be vaccinated?” posed Byron-Nisbett. “Those willing raise your hand so that we could see who will be willing.”

Hands shot up in the air, and one participant replied that her appointment was at 12:30 p.m. the following day. Another participant asked if he could get it there and then, but the Minister told him that the two nurses present at the session did not have the vaccines.

The next COVID-19 Vaccination Information Session for West Basseterre will be held on Wednesday, March 10, at the St. Johnston Community Centre starting at 6:30 p.m.

Going for the jab: Members of the public at a COVID-19 Vaccination Information Session held at Bronte Welsh Primary School in West Basseterre give an indication that they are ready to take the COVID-19 vaccination.