Leading members of the health sector gathered at the headquarters of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) on Wednesday night to celebrate the achievements of eight of the island’s ‘health heroes’ who contributed to the development of public health care.
They were recognized for their work in the fields of immunization; HIV/AIDS; chronic non-communicable diseases and mental health.
Dr Elizabeth Ferdinand was lauded for her work in the National Expanded programme on immunization, which resulted in Barbados’ successful elimination of many vaccine preventable diseases.
Senator Dr Carol Jacobs was also recognised for her pioneering work in HIV/AIDS, and for being one of the earliest advocates for the provision of free medication to HIV infected pregnant women. According to PAHO Director Dr Carissa Etienne, Dr Jacobs was also among the first people to work with women to reduce the risk of mother to child transmission of HIV. She was also the first Caribbean person and the first woman to chair the board of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.
The late Dr Oscar Jordan, was also awarded posthumously for his work in tackling diabetes.
“Even when we were still fighting infectious diseases and the scourge of undernutrition, [he] had the foresight to realise that diabetes would be the next significant cause of mortality in Barbados,” Dr Etienne said.
Also recognised for diabetes, were former president of the Diabetes Association of Barbados, Noreen Merrit, and Dr Elliott Doughlin, “who together with many others worked tirelessly . . . to reduce deaths and disability due to diabetes and other chronic non-communicable diseases in Barbados”, Dr Etienne noted.
In the area of women’s cancers, Dr Shirley Jhagroo was awarded for her work in raising the awareness of breast cancer over the past few decades. Dr Jhagroo has been instrumental in hosting the annual Walk for the Cure in observance of Breast Cancer Awareness month.
“In the area of mental health, we must certainly congratulate Barbados for its strong advocacy in de-stigmatisation of mental illness, as well as in ensuring that everyone could have access to the services that they need, as regrettably, mental health in the Caribbean has not received the attention that it deserves.
“We must applaud the transformation work and leadership of Dr George Mahy, especially in the areas of community mental health and forensic psychiatry in Barbados. In addition to his invaluable contribution to mental health improvements in Barbados, Dr Mahy also worked tirelessly in the countries of the northern Caribbean, to provide much-needed clinical services and to assist with the mental health programme development,” the PAHO director noted.
Dr Ermine Bell was also recognised for being a pioneer in the building of systems and programmes to combat substance abuse in Barbados, and more recently, for her work in Alzheimer’s disease.
In addition to the health heroes, PAHO also presented three special awards. Sandra Jones, who has worked with the organization for 15 years in various offices around the region in the area of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections was recognised for long service; Country Programme Specialist Shirley Augustine, who is also the former Chief Nursing Officer in Dominica, for her work in policy development. Augustine is due to retire at the end of this year. The Queen Elizabeth Hospital was also awarded for its commitment to implementing the ten-step breastfeeding protocol.
“This ceremony is a celebration of all the success stories that we have journeyed together. Journeys that have ended with success, others that have still not ended, and new ones that we have embarked on in recent years. All these journeys have the same goal: to improve the health of the people of Barbados,” said Dr Godfrey Xuereb, PAHO/WHO representative for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean.
The awards ceremony coincided with the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Barbados’ partnership with PAHO, under the theme Together we grow.