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Jomo Thomas

Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. (iWN file photo)

By *Jomo Sanga Thomas

(“Plain Talk” Nov.12, 2021)

The hospitalisation of former prime minister James Mitchell coming as it did a few months after PM Gonsalves sustained a busted head and felt compelled to fly to Barbados for treatment, has brought into sharp focus the legacies of colonialism, priorities of post-independence governments, the inadequacies in our health care system and the pressing task confronting our nation.

When the British colonisers formally left SVG in 1979 following nearly 200 years of colonial occupation, genocide, slavery and exploitation, a military barracks was our makeshift hospital. The facility was woefully inadequate, and many citizens remain convinced that it remains so. A good brethren justified his decision to take the vaccine for COVID-19 because he would rather take his chance with the unknown than end up in Milton Cato Memorial Hospital (MCMH). Many Vincentians have for generations viewed the hospital as a death trap.

We have indeed come a long way. Today most of our doctors and specialists are Vincentians. In the old days, many were foreigners, especially from India. In the last few years, new operating theatres have been installed, but no one confidently welcomes a visit or stay on the wards of MCMH. Through the kind generosity of our Cuba brothers and sisters, we now boast a well-equipped Modern medical facility at Georgetown. However impressive some may view these gains, Gonsalves and Mitchell’s hurried departure to Barbados for urgent medical attention not only exposed our inadequacies but in some ways brought into stark relief the priorities or lack thereof of their governance. After all, both men have dominated and occupied the seat of power for 37 of our nation’s 42 years of independence.

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And here is where Fitz Huggins comes in. Huggins does not care for the good graces of diplomacy. He was not trained as one and its shows. He wears as a badge of honour his support for the governing party. He is a political jihadist and aims his sharpest spears at opposition politicians and supporters. He wades into matters social and political in ways no trained diplomat would, but few will question his nationalist and patriotic bonafides. 

The ageing Gonsalves, who holds the foreign ministry portfolio, clearly does not have the energy to globe-trot as he did in the past. Gonsalves gluttonously craves the big stage. His conspicuous absence from the climate summit in Glasgow, Ireland, is proof positive is slowing down, except there are more ominous health reasons. 

Fitz Huggins have demonstrated an ability to build contacts and seek out practical benefits for our country. There has been no one in a foreign posting that has brought home more tangible benefits. Some may dismiss his efforts but ask yourself why no other diplomat in our history has been as visible as Huggins. Huggins has acquired used vehicles and fire engines for our police, seeds for our farmers and tonnes of relief supplies whenever there is a disaster.  

Those who frown on or dismiss these efforts need to be in the seat of a distressed citizen who makes an urgent call to a police station only to be told there is no police vehicle. Worse, watch your house or business burn for lack of a functioning fire engine.

Gonsalves and Mitchell rushed off to Barbados. Most citizens are unable to do so and are thus denied urgent and adequate care. With government assistance, many ordinary citizens have had the opportunity to travel abroad and access medical care. However, except for the rarest of medical diagnosis and care, we should acquire it here. 

Both the ULP and NDP have promised to build a modern hospital. It is time we get serious with health care. Preventive care must be prioritised, but we must not prevent illness. Central to the comfort and satisfaction of citizens is knowing that they could receive adequate and competent care.

If Fitz Huggins is made ambassador-at-large with the mandate to search for medical assistance, we can be assured he will give it his best effort. Take, for example, the absence of an MRI machine in SVG. Vincentians fly to neighbouring countries for this service. They must find money to pay for the transportation, hotel, internal travel as well as test.

It is incomprehensible that no government in post-independence SVG has committed to acquiring one of these machines. An internet search produced this fact: A used low-field MRI machine can be as cheap as US$150,000 or as expensive as $1.2 million. For a state of the art 3 Tesla MRI machine, the price tag to buy a new one can reach $3 million. The room that houses the machine, called the MRI suite, can cost hundreds of thousands more.

Would the investment be worth it? We think so. Early diagnosis may be less of a drain on public resources and saves lives. Further, the quest for such diagnostic tools must be done in the context of the construction and operation of a new hospital. We are not here talking about a new wall structure like the public library built with the assistance of the Taiwanese. 

Confidence in our health care facilities will increase only if we acquire modern equipment and diagnostic tools. Long gone are the days when hospitals were halfway houses where people went to suffer on their way to the cemetery.

Take Taiwan, one of our closest allies. Could they not be convinced to offer this much-needed assistance or contribute to its realisation?  Cuba, our oppressed, suppressed, blockaged and resourced starved sister nation, built the diagnostic centre. With the necessary diplomatic cover and mandate, Fitz can travel around the world in search of this kind of assistance.

Although we argued about the cost and politics of the Argyle International Airport, the settled view is that the airport is both necessary and essential. The mantra was build it, and they will come. A well-equipped hospital should be priority number one with a commitment to accomplishing it. Such a completion and celebration may have to wait for another day. What cannot wait is the dire need for a piece of medical equipment as essential and necessary as an MRI. 

Plain Talk is confident that as Ambassador at Large,  Fitz Huggins has the commitment, enthusiasm and drive to ask world leaders for those things our nation lacks but needs. 

*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].

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6 replies on “Fitz Huggins as ambassador-at-large”

  1. My dear Jomo:
    As usual, your arguments are sound and well-written. Unfortunately, you missed the most important point, i.e, the deficiency in tax revenues is perhaps at the heart of the problem. Perpetual international begging will never be enough to solve/meet the public sector capital expenditures for hospitals, medical equipment, etc. Why put more burden on poor Taiwan and our other friends? My dearly departed Grandmother, Little Miss Graham, used to say: ” When you depend on others to do what you are responsible for doing, you just get weak and will eventually lose the ability to perform”.

    I suspect that you have no love for private sector production and profitability. However, if SVG has to beg, let us beg for the expertise and market access that will help our small businesses to increase production, generate profits and pay taxes. Capitalism wins every day over socialism and international begging.

    Best regards my Learned brother,

    Vinci Vin

  2. Living and doing well while the stupid foolish dotish poor and indegent suffer and die for them to live a lavish lifestyle.

  3. Well said Mr. Jomo Thomas. I could not have agreed more and could not have been more direct, insistent and have said it any better. My kudos go out to you. I entertain that same level of thought that if SVG were to prioritize and health and healthcare educate for our citizenry about maintaining better health and wellness, it would assist in developing a more progressive and economically sound nation. This level of thinking needs a roadmap to better health and wellness in a more decisive, strategic and comprehensive plan. We need to open our thoughts and directives to what is happening in globalized societies and tailor our thoughts and problem-solving to meet the needs of our society and a developing and growing nation. The status quo need no longer to be maintained. Lack of growth and development leaves us stagnant. We need to move out of our boxes and safety zones and problem solve for future nation building.

    We need to research and do more studies on many of our chronic underlying conditions like over weight and obesity that is leading and resulting in growth with hypertension, type2 and juvenile diabetes and juvenile hypertension and cholesterol issues. Rather than just hand out (drugs) medications we need to educate the present practicing doctors and healthcare teams about the importance of proper nutrition in healing, health and wellness.No drugs will heal chronic conditions. Drugs(medications) are just meant to maintain conditions that hopefully will not get worse once we still continue to practice and uphold poor eating habits. Healthcare providers have to practice preventative care which require education of the citizenry and the nation. This is a lifelong process that needs lifelong maintenance. This is why nutrition should play a significant role in all school curriculum from kindergarten to college level so that the children could teach their parents how to change their poor eating habits. We have to depend on the educating our children to question their parents when they provide and present choices of poor eating habits. This is where children would lead as the scripture rightly says …. “and a little child will lead us”…. to changes.

    Recently, I watched the roll out of idea of implementing the plant-based diet from the Ministry of Health and Nutrition and his cohorts but while it might be a good idea and might look to be feasible I still did not see it materializing and this working if the whole population is not educated about the positives and the negative aspects. I think that one has to be presented with both side or this failure could cause a deeper public health crisis and because if proper nutrition education is not dispensed one can end up with pernicious anemia, leaky gut and other contributing conditions like anorexia nervousa or bulimia nervousa, increased bouts of stress, anxiety and depression and severe malnutrition, osteoporosis, osteomalicia resulting, from not having and applying the principles of proper nutrition.

    Added to this is the fact that all these processes and programs need to be inclusive in the planning of a new state of the arts hospital as part of the future health and education of our citizens. You see, people have to be convinced that better health is dependent on changes to what we put into our mouths and thereby ends in up our digestive systems and what show up around our waistline. The objective and strategy has to be to change from within and get more people to become more in-tuned as to what to eat and how often and most importantly how much of it. I will maintain that we need to practice preventative care which involves the educating to prevent underlying, chronic conditions. I will also maintain the thought that achieving better health will pay dividends to our economy and development of a better and influential society with more services available by trained and credentialed technical support staff in the hospitals.

    I am hoping that someone will be paying attention to this information because all aspects of service need to be looked at for any new hospital and where the services of technical and para-professionally trained personnel could be utilized and where there are more than just nurses, doctors, orderlies and aides providing services to the hospitals and clinics. We have ambulances now so, we need trained paramedics who could provide life-saving services in cases of trauma, mental health therapists for intervention in crises, certified respiratory therapists, trained and certified physiotherapists, nutritionists, exercise instructors and many other where healthcare specialties and care are being offered.

    These are some of the thing that can add valuable and productive years to our lifespan and reduce overweight,obesity and the underlying health conditions that is plaguing our society by cutting years of productive contribution while hypertension, type2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and addictions rob us from a more progressive and in-tuned society.

  4. I will agree that ‘Fitz Huggins’ has by his accomplishments since in Toronto; exemplified the drive, commitment and enthusiasm appropriate for the mandate as ‘Ambassador at Large’. However, in so doing; be guided in observing policies, procedures and related programs that ensure compliance on behalf of other governments.
    Overlooking ‘compliances’ will not only defeat his well-intended effort; but jeopardizes ongoing occupational relations and the social well-being of reliable and well connected associates, viable in expediting ‘things our nation lacks but needs’.

  5. Jomo, on one hand you are writing about local people and practices on the other hand you are promoting begging and the loving hands stretched out magic. Ralph them done mek 95 million of tax payers money disappear, that we know of. There is enough money to fund an MRI equipment and the upkeep there for years. But, taxpayers money has magically disappeared into nothing. A wonder if Frits know where it is.

  6. Jomo I have a problem with this point of view. After 42 years of Independence we want to see our ‘Ambassador at Large’ going around begging for things that others are going to discard. Is this what it means to be an independent country? I was hoping that there was some sarcasm in this!

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