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SEEN UP NORTH: Full focus on hospice

Tony Best

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Less than 20 hours had elapsed between an evening of nostalgia and a symposium on cancer and other non-communicable diseases in Barbados.
The great divide between the atmosphere on Friday evening when music, dancing and food, all packaged at the Hilton Hotel just outside of the John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens and the far more serious mood at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Centre in Brooklyn the next day was as far apart as St Lucy and St Philip.
Still, there was an important connection, a bridge whose pillars were built on a commitment by Bajans in the diaspora to contribute to the effective health care delivery to Barbadians at home. And the key driving force behind both events was the Barbados Cancer Association, USA (BACA), Inc., keenly supported by the Barbados Diaspora Collaborative, USA.
Essentially, the functions were designed to focus attention on plans for a palliative care centre and hospice in Barbados and on the incidence of cancer and other non-communicable diseases in Barbados.
Nostalgia was a fund-raiser in support of the Barbados hospice while the symposium was part of BACA’s annual education initiative that provides Caribbean immigrants, especially Bajans, with solid information on the incidence of cancer and other diseases back home as well as on the changing health profile of the island nation.
“Barbados is a fairly well off country, what the World Bank calls a high income country. But if one looked at the various factors, we would actually rank as a middle income developing country,” asserted Dr Anselm Hennis, University of the West Indies professor of medicine and epidemiology and director of the Chronic Disease Research Centre.
“That assessment is based on a slew of other parameters; we are heading to becoming a first world country but we aren’t quite there yet. We have seen our standard of living improved substantially in a narrow period of time and therefore subject to the illnesses of acculturation. This is known as the so-called epidemiologic transition.
“So we have become more obese, become more sedentary, eat more processed foods. We have more vehicles and we walk a lot less. We have a lot of lifestyle illnesses as a consequence, diabetes and cardiovascular illness among them. That is how Barbados is doing now. To change that model is a major public health challenge.”
Professor Hennis offered his assessment after he delivered a sobering lecture at Kingsbrook Jewish where he spoke about the high cancer mortality rates, the incidence of high blood pressure and the negative impact of diabetes and strokes on the country. He also zeroed in on the need to embrace a healthier lifestyle in order to reduce the rates of illness and mortality.
“We have an aging population and our disease rates are going to continue increasing in the foreseeable future,” asserted Hennis. “We are going to see more people in our community who are going to require end of life care. That is pretty clear. Hospice care will be a strategy that will be important to Barbados as we go forward.”
The hospice initiative which is keenly supported by Minister of Health Donville Inniss envisages a 20-bed facility “located in a serene environment” yet to be chosen.
“BACA’s initiative to establish a residential hospice and palliative care facility in Barbados exemplifies the finest tradition of collaboration and cooperation between Barbados and its diaspora,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Maxine McClean in a message to the guests of the evening of nostalgia.
Dr O’Neal Parris, BACA chairman and a mover and shaker behind the project, sees the hospice as an important addition to the range of health care services available to Barbadians and he was quick to assure them that the “quest for a free standing hospice and palliative care facility in Barbados marches on”. It’s a project to which both the association and diaspora collaborative “remain as committed as ever”, he says.
The response of the diaspora, he added, “was exemplary, but we still have a long way to go before the hospice becomes a reality”.
By the end of this year, the fund-raising drive is expected to net $100 000 and Jessica Odle-Barill, a former consul general in New York, and the coordinator of Nostalgia was confident of success.
Lennox Price, head of the nation’s consulate general, was effusive in his praise for BACA, the collaborative and the diaspora, asserting that their activities and support demonstrated a “full commitment to the project”.
Dr Eddie Alleyne, until recently the president of the Caribbean-American Medical and Scientific Association, was the chairman of the symposium and Dr Debra Brathwaite, a Barbadian rehabilitation specialist, was also actively involved in it.