Serving as keynote speaker at the official opening of World Health Month, by the World Health Organization (WHO), Minister of Health, Dr. Duane Sands acknowledged on Thursday morning that WHO continues its efforts to challenge world leaders, policy makers, and national health systems to take concrete steps to move towards Universal Health Coverage (UHC).
This year’s WHO World Health Month theme is ‘Universal Health Coverage: Everyone, Everywhere.’ The local opening ceremony for the event was held at the Rand Memorial Hospital (RMH).
Sands acknowledged, “In keeping with this theme, I would like to encourage like-minded members of the health sector and those in the general public to adopt the hash tag #healthforall. This simple action may help to raise awareness of the need for a cost effective, sustainable approach, to universal health care coverage; not just here in The Bahamas, but around the world.
“The Bahamas, like every other nation in our region, has undertaken the immense, huge, massive challenge that is implementation of a programme of National Health Insurance (NHI). There is no doubt, that the need for universal coverage is clear, our country’s total health expenditure ranks among the top five in absolute dollars, in Latin America, and the Caribbean. I am advised that per capita, it is the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean.
“As I recently advised Parliament, with the current trends in non communicable diseases (NCD’s) diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and others, in addition to the impact of violence and infectious diseases our already struggling economy will be crippled by our health challenges and costs.
“I support the efforts of the National Health Insurance (NHI) authority, as we make progress towards a universal coverage solution, that works in our Bahamian context, and meets the international standard, that enables every citizen and resident to access the services that address the most important causes of disease and death, and ensures the quality of those services. Make no bones about it, the reform of our NHI programs, while it is important, is not going to be a panacea, for all of The Bahamas’ health care ills,” informed Sands.
While scheduled to present on NHI, during the opening of World Health Month on Thursday, Chairman of the NHI Authority, Dr. Robin Roberts, was unable to attend due to a personal emergency, however,Sands expressed, “If Dr. Roberts were here, he would tell you that NHI is not dead. If Dr. Roberts were here, he would have told you, the dramatic revision in the plans for a real National Health Insurance plan, inclusive of catastrophic care coverage.
“The solutions to the challenges of our national health systems, and challenges with respect to our population health outlook are complex. It requires continuous reform in our health system, in order to result in improved health and wellness, for Bahamians, because Bahamians are at risk of developing preventable health conditions.
“In what is an ongoing tragedy, far too many Bahamians live unhealthy lives, they consume too much salt, they consume too much sugar. Far too little of what we consume is actually nutritious. Far too many of us live sedentary lives, inviting the many complications that arise from a lack of sufficient physical activity. Ultimately, far too many Bahamians, despite decades of healthy lifestyle campaigns, undertaken by the public health sector, the private sector, civil society, non governmental organizations (NGOs), still lack the information and tools (or, if they have them they do not use them) to make changes in their lives that can improve their health and prevent disease and injury.
“There is little doubt that creative thinking and innovative approaches are needed to empower our people, to take control of their health, but, personal responsibility for one’s own health, and dedication to the health of those entrusted to our care, like our children, and our elderly, must also play a part,” stated Sands.
He continued by informing attendees that as part of his Ministry’s national health policy, they continue opening discussions with other branches of the public sector, as well as engaging with the private sector. “We are seeking dialogue with the public on changes we can make to our lifestyles, the culture and economic outlook, that will empower us as Bahamians to move towards better health outcomes.
“Recently I shared some of our considerations with respect to nutrition, and the country’s bread basket items. I expect a lot of pushback, and, there has been some pushback. Indeed, in a democracy we will never have perfect agreement on every issue; however, I believe that every Bahamian can unite in the service of cause of better health for us and our families.
Victor Hugo said it quite well, ‘There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.’ Certainly, the time for healthier Bahamians and a healthier Bahamas is an idea whose time has come,” concluded Minister Sands.