An untold number of Barbadian children, who were at risk of contracting the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) from their infected mothers during pregnancy are today living free of the virus, which eventually develops into full-blown acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) and fully enjoying life as any normal child.
Their HIV-free status is largely due to the tireless efforts and dedication of Professor Anne St John, a 40-year veteran on the island’s medical scene and well-known paediatrician, who is a familiar face on the Children’s Ward at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH).
Giving Barbadian children a fair chance at a normal childhood is just one of many achievements for which Dr St John was recognized last Saturday night as the 2016 honouree by this island’s leading group of professionals in the medical field.
“Tonight, the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners recognizes and salutes the clinical work, research, dedication and medical leadership of an outstanding professor and paediatrician, a colleague and collaborator, a fellow doctor and friend –– Professor Margaret Anne St John,” announced the head of the QEH’s Department of Paediatrics, Dr Vikash Chatrani, during a gala welcome ceremony for new doctors at the Concorde Experience.
For the benefit of the 25 new doctors, fresh from their studies at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, along with their parents, relatives and other members of the medical profession, Chatrani used all of the allocated 25 minutes to read a citation, but still did not fully detail the work of St John in the medical field in Barbados.
In bullet point style, Chatrani sought to sum up the milestones so far in the life and continuing career of St John: “Wife and mother, champion of all things Queen’s College; outstanding paediatrician; iconic QEH consultant for 35 years; academic, mentor and teacher; aficionado of auction sales; formidable chair of the QEH Drugs & Therapeutics Committee; BAMP member since 1980 and current member of the editorial committee of the BAMP Bulletin; stalwart of the St Michael’s Cathedral; commanding force in the national war on HIV/AIDS; member of the Privy Council of Barbados; doyenne of the St John medical dynasty; a director of the Barbados Heart & Stroke Foundation; and medical advisor and resource physician to the Variety Club, Barbados Children’s Charity and the Sandy Lane Charitable Trust”.
Within that capsule of her three decades and a half of service is her sterling work as coordinator of the National Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission Programme.
Chatrani noted: “Our country was a leader in approaching and reaching almost universal antenatal testing, and treating potentially HIV-exposed children, and we have seen the instances of mother-to-child HIV transmission almost disappear.
“This is a most significant accomplishment for Barbados, and it would never have happened without Anne St John’s relentless dedication to the issue, focus on the details, and dogged pursuit of anything that interfered with the comprehensive and efficient implementation of the programme.
He went on: “I wish to further point out that in addition to her work in caring for infected children, the decrease in the mother to child transmission of HIV means that there are healthy children in our community who, but for Professor St John, would be HIV-infected.”
As a friend and current colleague, Chatrani testified: “Anne St John has made her mark; and part of it is as a pioneer female doctor in Barbados. But her influence is not because she is female; it is because she is very good at what she does, because she cares, because she is willing to stand up for principles and is a stickler for details, and because, like no one else I know, she doesn’t give up.
“She has supervised, mentored and led by example, practically every paediatrician practising in Barbados today,” Chatrani said, naming 14 of the island’s doctors with outstanding practices whom she had influenced through her role at the QEH.
St John is well published, with many articles related to HIV/AIDS and paediatric infectious diseases. Other topics of general paediatric interest published by St John include The Risk Of Overweight In Relation To Parenting Behaviours, Activity Levels And School Types In A Cohort Of 9- to 10-Year-Old Barbadian Children, and Audit Of Paediatric Patients With Febrile Seizures: Are There Too Many Unnecessary Lumbar Punctures?
St John’s work and achievements earned her the Pelican Alumni Peer Award in 2004 from the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, for best graduate in the decade of the 1970s (shared with Dr Charles Edwards, who is her husband).
In 2012, the Kiwanis Club of Barbados bestowed a Distinguished Community Service Award on St John in recognition of her outstanding contribution to child health in Barbados.
And in 2014, the QEH gave her a Long-Standing Member Award For Dedicated Service related to hospital infection control. Then in January this year, the Rotary Club of Barbados West gave her a Vocational Service Award in recognition of excellence in her chosen profession.
At the Rotary Club of Barbados West ceremony, she was hailed for having “practised her craft in medicine for the past four decades and 37 of these years were dedicated to working in the care of children”.