Whenever this is needed and requested, the Dutch Caribbean islands can count on the assistance of the Netherlands and the Ministry of Public Health, Welfare and Sport VWS to mitigate COVID-19 in the long term.
Dutch VWS Minister Ernst Kuipers assured this in a lengthy letter to the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament last Friday, in which he elaborated on the longterm approach to COVID-19. The letter contained a couple of paragraphs about the Dutch Caribbean. In the coming months, the healthcare personnel hired by the VWS Ministry through the American healthcare recruitment firm AMI Network who have been working in Aruba, Curacao and St. Maarten during the pandemic will be phased out.
However, if needed and requested by the countries, the assistance to deploy additional healthcare personnel can be considered, stated Kuipers. The availability of the entire healthcare system remains a focal point in the islands’ exercise to scale down measures and to reduce assistance from the Netherlands.
The healthcare capacity in the Dutch Caribbean countries is being discussed by the VWS Ministry together with the Dutch Caribbean Health Alliance (DCHA) and the advisors of Aruba’s, Curacao’s and St. Maarten’s ministers of Public Health.
Possible alternatives to the intensive care (IC) personnel deployed by the VWS Ministry are being looked at, among other things, “and a joint plan for the sustainable training of healthcare personnel is being worked on,” stated Kuipers.
The DCHA is a cooperative which is currently being established and which for the long term will play a role in the collaboration between the hospitals on the six Dutch Caribbean islands. “This will secure the long-term availability of [COVID-19 — Ed.] care in a sustainable manner and there can be a mutual exchange of personnel as well as the referral of patients.”
The VWS Ministry is engaged in talks with all six islands about how to continue and design the testing policy, the source- and contact-tracing investigation and the (booster) vaccination campaigns. Kuipers noted that as autonomous countries, Aruba, Curacao and St. Maarten were ultimately responsible and decided on their policy.
Discussions are also taking place on how to improve the “pandemic readiness” in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom. In this matter, differentiation will be made between the aspects in which each country can assume its own responsibility and the parts where the countries can work together, such as strengthening implementation of the mutual International Health Regulations (IHR) and joint training of personnel.
As part of the Netherlands, the Caribbean Netherlands islands Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba remain a direct responsibility of the VWS Ministry. In Saba and St. Eustatius, they have discontinued the containment strategy and have moved to a mitigation strategy. That means that the influx and a limited circulation of COVID-19 are unavoidable, explained Kuipers.
But the high/increasing vaccination rate and the built-up immunity due to infections, together with the characteristics of the current Omicron variant, make the risk of limited circulation acceptable for the public entities, the VWS Ministry and the National Institute for Health Care and the Environment RIVM.
Bonaire too is working a further reopening of the island, for which the availability of care is a precondition. A plan is being worked on to transfer the special care unit at Mariadal Hospital to intensive care.
Considering the limited capacity of healthcare, the insular character of the islands and the vaccination rate, if and when the number of positive cases rises steeply it might become necessary to reimplement the scaled-down measures to contain the situation.
The Daily Herald.