Health tourism was on the agenda as two officials from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) visited St. Lucia recently.
PAHO Adviser for Human Resources for Health Dr. Erica Wheeler and PAHO Health Systems Strengthening Adviser Dr. Peter Cowley spoke after their visit to Owen King EU Hospital (the New National Hospital) and the possibilities for health tourism.
Dr. Cowley said he is “extremely impressed” with the new hospital.
“We are here for a couple of reasons. We are trying to increase the technical cooperation between PAHO as well as the French Government, by providing technical and managerial support to the New National Hospital which, by the way, we are extremely impressed by, and we are here to ensure that working with the Ministry of Health here in St. Lucia, that we have a smooth transition from the current hospital to the new National Medical Hospital. And we are here to see how we can assist in any way possible.”
The PAHO official said countries in the region are seeking to provide specialised health services which will boost medical tourism.
“There is going to be a movement in the region, and that is a realisation that not every country can provide every type of specialised care. And some discussions are being held at a higher level about this concept. Many islands in the region are beginning to understand that they can offer specialised care that can be be used by citizens as well as by residents of other islands. This is already beginning to become more than just a thought, it is becoming a reality.”
He added: “For example, in Antigua, they have a very advanced oncology centre that is already providing care to citizens from Anguilla. Other islands are also considering the same concepts. In St. Lucia there are great potentials for this because of the New National Hospital as well as the strength of the human resources in that the new National Medical Hospital or other facilities here in St. Lucia can offer specialised care to not only its own citizens and its own residents, but also to those from neighboring countries.
“What you get when you do that is you are increasing what is called universal health coverage and universal health access which the World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Organization are greatly trying to promote with Ministries of Health, where every citizen have access to a wide range of services without due financial hardship to them and their family.
“So when you provide the regional specialised centers of care, and you have agreement with sister governments, you are in effect providing more services for more people at lesser financial hardship. That is what we are trying to promote at PAHO and WHO, and that is something that we are very pleased to see here. We have some interest from the St. Lucia Ministry of Health and we again would just like to make certain that the facilities that are newly constructed in St. Lucia are used to optimal efficiency, and also can be used to increase the universal health coverage, for not only St. Lucians, but also residents from sister islands.
Meanwhile, Dr. Wheeler said PAHO works with Eastern Caribbean and CARICOM countries to develop their health care systems.
“We are really here at the different levels to look at how we can assist St. Lucia as it moves from the decommissioning of its hospitals into the new commissioned structures. I understand that there are two new hospitals to be commissioned so we are really looking at tertiary institutions on this visit and in particular to look at the human resources for the health component, for example, how is it going to be staffed? Will there be sufficient staff? How is it staffed in relation to other services in the community? So our focus really is on the tertiary aspect of care in St. Lucia during this visit.”
Dr. Wheeler pointed out that the visit to St. Lucia originated with the French department “because the French department is very much interested in offering assistance to St. Lucia with training of health professionals”.
“This visit is focusing on how we work with the French department as PAHO and with the ECC to support the staffing of the hospital. So in terms of hand-holding, it’s more of assessing and evaluating what is needed in specialist care and how PAHO, working at the ECC level with the French department, can help to advise on the staffing and look where we can help with the training of specialists and the training of nurses. We understand that with the moving from the old to the new system there will be a need for the training of people, in particular doctors who need specialist training to be able to provide it to the St. Lucian community.”
She also touched on the topic of heath tourism.
“Yes, we did talk about centres of excellence and health tourism because we realise that at the sub-regional level there is a lot of scope. We are a small island and we admit it. Everyone cannot specialise in everything, so at the new facility we have to take into consideration first of all the capacity of the new facility, the specialists that are available, and yes it is brand new and there is a lot of potential.
“We have to take into consideration what are the current demands from the community because it is nice to have a new hospital, but we also have to look at the utilisation of the old versus the new and what is available in the old one versus what is available in the new one.
“So i would like to say we need to evaluate more closely as we still need to get the statistics on the utilisation of the old hospital and what is available here. We understand there will be less beds so there will have to be some creative thinking about what is possible in terms of the number of patients to be treated and where a centre of excellence can be. But we know as St. Lucians we are sure we can find a solution because we have also looked at other facilities and we are sure that St. Lucia will be able to have a centre of excellence.”