St. Vincent and the Grenadines will this year focus on the needs of the physically and mentally disabled.

TAIPEI, Taiwan: – At least 2,549 of the 107, 000 residents of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) live with “obvious physical or mental disabilities”, according to Ministry of Health figures.

This number does not include the 190 patients at the Mental Health Centre and Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said his country has paid too little attention to these individuals.

He said that statistically, as many as 3, 000 Vincentians might have mental and physical disabilities and the country must “devise an appropriate policy and programme to address them”.

Gonsalves said while some persons with physical and mental disabilities are well-cared for and integrated within families, this is not the norm.

In most cases, they “live in the shadows of their families, barely tolerated, and very often hidden, despised, and sometimes treated worse than stray animals”.

He said that some call them “cripple” or “retarded” and they tend to suffer awful discrimination. (Follow I Witness-News on Facebook)

“A civilised society is measured, in part, by the way in which it treats those who are most defenceless, marginalised, and physically or mentally disabled.

“The sad fact is that world-wide, including the Caribbean, societies, as a whole, and governments, have paid for too little attention to these children of God; this, too, has been the case in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Gonsalves said in a national address.

He said that the Ministry of Education is “lifting its game on an on-going basis” to respond to the need of students with learning disorders, adding that much more needs to be done in those respects.

In 2010, Gonsalves said his administration would “mount a focused programme to improve, markedly, the lot of persons living with striking physical and mental disabilities”.

The “Lives to Live” programme has already seen Cuban and Vincentian health officials, including SVG’s Minister of Health Dr. Douglas Slater, holding discussions during a meeting in Kingstown last week.

Gonsalves said in February or March, a group of 40 Cuban professionals headed by Vincentian senior nurse Feroza Roache, would spend four to six weeks analysing the condition of each physically or mentally disabled Vincentian and would devise measures for appropriate care. (Follow I Witness-News on Facebook)

The government of Venezuela is also partnering with SVG in this initiative which would be coordinated by the Ministries of Health, Social Development, and Education in Kingstown.

“So, in 2010, let us face up to one of the greatest challenges of contemporary society, namely, the care of people living with disabilities, be it preventive, or focused on improving the quality of life and securing the complete, social integration of these individuals within a context of equal rights,” Gonsalves said.