Year in Review: Health of the Nation

By January 2022, Barbadians were suffering from COVID-19 fatigue and were ready to resume regular routines as much as possible.

The pandemic, which held the world in its grip since early 2020 was still prevalent, but slowly, the Government was relaxing the protocols which kept the country safe during the height of the crisis.

Government never eased up on it messages which encouraged people to not only get tested but take the COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters which were said to “provide another layer of protection against the virus”, practice good hygiene, wash their hands and for the elderly and those with health conditions to wear masks.

READ: Government introduces fine for not wearing mask in public

So serious were they about mask wearing, in April a ticketing system was introduced in the Emergency Management (COVID-19) (Protocols) (No. 6) Directive 2022. It imposed a $100 fine for not wearing face masks in a public building, public place, or while travelling on a public service vehicle or other public transport, whether as a driver, conductor, or passenger.

But with the announcement of a modified Crop Over Festival in February came calls from players in the entertainment fraternity to relax the COVID-19 protocols and remove the vexing stipulations that testing and vaccination for performers, staff and service providers were required to undergo.

On June 25 they got their wish as Minister of Health and Wellness, Ian Gooding-Edghill announced, “There will be no testing or vaccine mandates to take part in community, social and sporting events including Emancipation and Crop Over, pleasure craft, private boats, party cruises, night clubs, karaoke, graduations and prize-giving ceremonies”.

Stating that cases were declining, the Minister further announced that restrictions on attendance and the length of religious and funeral services, wedding ceremonies and receptions would be removed as well as the need for hand sanitisation at business places, although the latter remained for public and private health care institutions, all ports of entry, at Dodds Prison, nursery to tertiary education institutions which resumed face-to-face classes in September.

On September 23, the wearing of face masks, which remained for indoor events, as did the three feet or more mandate for physical distancing, became optional. However, it remained mandatory in schools, day care facilities, at hospitals, dental offices, clinics, nursing homes and while commuting on public transportation.

All COVID-19-related travel protocols for Barbados were also discontinued then.

In December, news came from co-coordinator of the National COVID-19 Vaccination Campaign Dr Elizabeth Ferdinand that there was a shortage of vaccines while, chief medical officer (CMO), The Most Honourable Dr Kenneth George said: “We are indeed facing a double whammy, because we have COVID circulating, and we have flu circulating. The flu virus has been typed. It is H3N2 that has been circulating and that has also increased steeply within the last two months. We continue to monitor both for flu and for COVID.”

And as they had done since the start of the pandemic, the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners’ President Dr Lynda Williams repeated the call for people to remain cautious, guard against respiratory illnesses such as influenza, and for those in contact with vulnerable individuals to continue wearing face masks to protect them people and themselves.

The CMO announced the COVID-19 Management Order and Directives would end on December 21 and with it mask wearing in educational institutions would be optional as well as for those travelling on public service vehicles.

But COVID-19 wasn’t the only health related issue that came to the fore last year.

When 2022 started there was still no resolution to the nurses’ strike which began early December 2021 as they pressed for better working conditions, hazard allowance and health insurance.

General secretary of the Unity Workers’ Union, Caswell Franklyn who represented them, said among their grouses were poor pay, “lack of security at the clinics, the lack of personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies as the hospitals and clinics were not being cleaned on a regular basis”.

On January 6th the nurses assembled in Golden Square Freedom Park crying out against the docking of their salaries in mid-December while they were off the job. On the 17th and heading into the seventh week of protest action, more than 100 of them took up placards and took the streets of Bridgetown, marching from Cheapside to Golden Square Freedom Park.

By March 7, after 14 weeks of strike action, Franklyn reported the industrial action recorded some success although some of the striking nurses had returned to work due to financial reasons.

The issue of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) was also on the front burner and Prime Minister Mia Mottley signaled her intention in the announcement of the new Cabinet that Dr Sonia Browne would be a Minister of State of the Ministry of Health with responsibility for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and NCDs. Thr0ughout the course of the year, there were constant reminders about and to this segment of the population, many of whom were feeling the effects of COVID-19 harder than those without.

In July, there was one confirmed case of Monkeypox and by August, the Barbadian man in his 20s, had fully recovered.

On August 29, the CMO and chief environmental officer Francina Bascombe voiced their concerns about the discovery of stagnant water and mosquito larvae at homes after two years of minor dengue fever incidents.

In October, the second cohort of 122 nurses from Ghana arrived to begin a two-year assignment aimed at bolstering the shortages being experienced across the health care sector and in November, history was creating with the first cohort of 20 nurses graduating from The University of the West Indies (UWI), Cave Hill Campus’ Faculty of Medical Sciences’ Postgraduate Diploma in Paediatric Nursing and Master of Science in Nursing programme.

The year ended with the Queen Elizabeth Hospital being hit with a cybersecurity attack that disrupted all their internet dependent services and caused delays in services to the outpatient clinic and radiology departments. It has not been fully resolved. (GBM)

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