Well, I have heard it all now! I don’t think I can ever again be surprised by anything that is said in Barbados!
Just imagine: Dr Carlos Chase –– the black Barbadian medical doctor who holds the post of president of the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners (BAMP) –– has publicly called upon the Government of Barbados to privatize our very own Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), and to permit the private sector to run it in the same manner as one would run a hotel.
This is easily the single most socially backward statement which has been enunciated in the public domain of Barbados over the past 50 years.
It is also a socially dangerous statement, for what Dr Chase is urging is that the Government of Barbados, elected to office by the predominantly black and working-class population of Barbados, should engage in a course of action that would –– in one fell swoop –– wipe out fundamental social and health care rights that the black masses of Barbados fought for in monumental social battles over the past 150 years.
Let us be very clear about this. For the bulk of the history of Barbados, this island possessed little or no state-owned public health care facilities to cater to the life-and-death health needs of the masses of black Barbadians, and of poor white Barbadians for that matter.
After the formal abolition of slavery in 1838, the local white planter/merchant Government contented itself with establishing a few parochial medical officers and a handful of almshouses –– a mere drop in the ocean of the critical health care needs of the newly emancipated masses of people! And after some time, they also established a General Hospital, but it was extremely rudimentary and totally inadequate.
In the illuminating history text entitled Holding Aloft The Banner Of Ethiopia, the British/Jamaican historian Dr Winston James provides the following snapshot of the health situation for black Barbadians in the early decades of the 20th century:
. . . During the decade between 1910 to 1912 and 1920 to 1922, the average length of life for Barbadians shortened. For women it fell from 32.5 to 31.9 years. And Barbadian men lived on average 28.5 years, slightly down from the 28.7 years for 1910 to 1912 . . . . In 1920 to 1922, Barbadian women died before they were 32 . . . .
Barbados’ infant mortality rate rose during most years of the 1920s, reaching an appalling high 401 in 1921 due to disease and exceptionally bad circumstances that year.
Needless to say, the masses of black and poor white Barbadians were ravaged not only by poverty, hunger, malnutrition, infectious diseases, and primitive housing, but also by totally inadequate or non-existent health care services.
It is only in the 1950s –– after the representatives of the masses had taken control of the Government with the advent of universal suffrage –– that the political leaders of this country began to take truly serious and meaningful steps to provide the masses of Barbadians with proper health care.
And –– fundamentally –– these steps consisted of the radical expansion of public or Government-owned and operated health care facilities, such as our system of polyclinics; the construction of the new, modern, tertiary-care Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH); and the provision of a range of critical health care services to the citizens of Barbados free of cost.
It therefore goes without saying that our state-owned QEH and the provision of taxpayer-supported health care services have been at the very heart of the “health care revolution” that –– over the past 50 years –– has seen Barbados attain “First World” standards of infant mortality (12 deaths per thousand live babies) and life expectancy (75.2 years for males and 80.9 years for females).
Indeed, the experience of the entire world over the past 100 years has demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt that the cornerstone of any effective national health care system is the public, state-owned general hospital that provides citizens with a comprehensive range of free (or taxpayer-supported) medical services and facilities under one roof!
There can be absolutely no debate about this –– provided that one is fundamentally concerned about serving human beings and preserving human life, rather than about making money and profits.
I must say that I find it truly appalling that the head of the professional association of our Barbadian doctors is captive to such a socially backward point of view, and I think that BAMP –– as an institution –– is now under a duty to indicate whether Dr Carlos Chase was merely expressing his personal views, or whether he was expressing the official position of BAMP.
For several years now, I have been puzzled by Dr Carlos Chase’s rejection of and open hostility towards young Cuban-trained Barbadian doctors. Now, I think I am beginning to discern the root of his attitude.
I now conclude by issuing a public call to the executive and ordinary members of the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners to publicly dissociate themselves from their president’s call for the privatization of the QEH!
(David Comissiong, attorney-at-law, is president of the Clement Payne Movement.)