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AS I SEE THINGS: Public health and economic performance

Brian Francis

AS I SEE THINGS: Public health and economic performance

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It is rather interesting that for many decades we in the Caribbean have been focusing mostly on certain fundamental issues when it comes to our assessments of the performances of our economies. While this author clearly understands the motivation behind such practices, it is obvious now that we as serious people have to take a firm stand and fight for other things that may not be equally as important in our views but definitely demand our urgent attentions.

Take, for example, the annual budgets presented in our various Parliaments. Once the issue of a budget presents itself, most people immediately begin to wonder about matters such as whether the economy is growing or not, the opportunities that will be created for employment, the policies aimed at reducing the cost of living, the kinds of incentives that would be offered to private enterprises to boost activities in the productive sectors, and whether or not there would be any new taxes imposed on individuals and/or businesses. And these are undeniable facts.

In relation to the same budgetary presentations, how often have we heard great interest from the public in relation to public health issues, for example, and how these are being dealt with to safeguard the national interest?

I have deliberately selected public heath as a matter of great significance because of the undeniable link between it and the performance of our economies. That link manifests itself in two critical ways.

First, there is no secret that throughout the Caribbean a huge and increasing amount of resources are being deployed to address matters of public health to the point now where most governments are finding it extremely challenging to continue to provide “free” health care to their citizens.

Second, health problems do have a direct impact on labour productivity and hence the level of economic activity in the country. Only recently in both Grenada and Jamaica productivity and performance in both the public and private sectors took massive blows as many workers affected by the chikungunya virus were absent from work.

Despite the challenges posed by the likes of the chikungunya virus and other non communicable diseases, for instance, Caribbean countries like the rest of the world, now have to brace themselves to take up the fight against the Ebola virus. Even though this dreaded disease is yet to be confirmed in the region, the fact that already over 4 000 people have lost their lives from this virus should be a matter of great concern to all and sundry.  When this fact is coupled with the news that the most resourceful country in the world – the United States of America – has recorded its first home-based case of the disease despite all the preventative procedures in place, it would be anyone’s guess as to what will happen next.

For us in the Caribbean the way forward is clear. We have to elevate public health to the level of seriousness that is warranted if we are to survive the challenges posed by so many deadly diseases and simultaneously maintain reasonable levels of economic performances.

After all, who knows, we may very well only be witnessing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to these fatal diseases. Hence, the time to be wise is clearly at hand.