2 health care professionals dispatched to St. Maarten

To help with the further strengthening of public health in St. Maarten, the Dutch government – this week – dispatched two medical professionals to the island.

On April 14, a nurse of the Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment RIVM and a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene expert – a so-called WASH specialist – of the Netherlands Red Cross were dispatched to St. Maarten.

The RIVM nurse will strengthen the team of the Public Health Department of the St. Maarten government. Last week, a doctor-epidemiologist of the RIVM was dispatched to St. Maarten for this same purpose.

The WASH specialist will assist the local Red Cross by – among other things – contributing to securing more access to the group of undocumented persons in St. Maarten. This is a relatively large group on the island and they often live in small dwellings with substandard hygiene facilities. Poverty is an issue, as is communicating with this group.

The dispatch of the RIVM nurse and WASH specialist was announced by Dutch Minister of Public Health, Well-being and Sport VWS, Hugo de Jonge in a long letter which he sent to the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament late Wednesday evening. He provided a detailed update on the status of affairs regarding COVID-19 in the Netherlands.

Dutch Public Health Minister Hugo de Jonge speaks with reporters in The Hague after the regular Council of Ministers meeting in The Hague. (Suzanne Koelega file photo)

The letter contained five paragraphs on the Dutch Caribbean. The Netherlands has been assisting the six islands with medical equipment, supplies and personnel to strengthen medical capacity. The Dutch government has a special responsibility for Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba which are part of the Netherlands.

The VWS Ministry has been working on increasing the limited intensive care (IC) capacity with an additional 42 IC units at the hospitals in Aruba, Curaçao, St. Maarten and Bonaire.

On April 5, medical equipment, personal protective equipment (PPE) and medication were flown to St. Maarten by a military aircraft. An additional 12 IC units have been made operational. The medical personnel to operate these units were recruited in the United States via an international medical employment agency, and they have already arrived on the island.

Last Friday, the remaining 30 ventilators, medication and PPE were flown to Curaçao by Royal Dutch Airlines KLM. With these supplies, an additional 12 IC units can be realised in both Aruba and Curaçao, and six in Bonaire.

The additional medical personnel needed to operate the IC units will also be recruited through an international medical employment agency. The total of 42 extra IC units on the four islands are meant for all residents of the Dutch Caribbean. Air ambulances are available to transport the patients between the islands.

The VWS Ministry is responsible for health care in the Caribbean Netherlands, where obviously the restricting measures to curb the spreading of the coronavirus have influence on the continuity of health care, stated Minister de Jonge.

General practitioners and physical therapists are still offering care while taking the strict measures into consideration, by calling via telephone or video. Pharmacies are offering their services. Dentists are only available for emergency cases. Elective care has been halted at the hospitals in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba.

Essential and acute care, such as cancer treatments or care with a complicated birth, are continuing. Patients of St. Eustatius and Saba are now going to the hospital in Bonaire or Curaçao, by air ambulance.

Dialysis treatments are continuing as well. Statia and Saba kidney patients requiring dialysis who used to regularly fly to St. Maarten for treatment, are now remaining in St. Maarten for the time being. Psychological and psychiatric treatment continue – mostly by telephone – while the severe cases are visited at home.

Minister de Jonge provided the latest figures of COVID-19 cases in the Dutch Caribbean: Aruba – 92, of whom three are at the IC; Curaçao – 14, with one person in the IC; St. Maarten – 52, of whom three are in the IC; St. Eustatius and Saba – two each. On Thursday, a first COVID-19 case was recorded in Bonaire. In St. Maarten, nine persons have died, in Curaçao one and in Aruba two.

The Daily Herald.

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