Health Care

Mus­ings are thoughts, the thought­ful kind. For the pur­pose of th­ese ar­ti­cles, a-mus­ings are thoughts that might amuse, en­ter­tain and even en­lighten.

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Michael Walker

As some of you may be aware, I’m a bit of a his­tory buff, and one of my great­est plea­sures is pe­rus­ing old books about St. Lu­cia, of which I have man­aged to as­sem­ble quite a col­lec­tion through the years. Strangely enough, when I was at school, I never re­ally un­der­stood the im­por­tance of his­tory; I found it all rather bor­ing per­haps be­cause the one his­tory teacher that I can re­mem­ber was only in­ter­ested in dates and in­ter­minable lists of kings.

Take Vic­to­ria Hos­pi­tal, for in­stance; an in­sti­tu­tion that seems to have been tot­ter­ing on its last legs for the past few decades. Be­lieve it or not, VH was once the is­land’s pride and joy. This is what the “St. Lu­cia Hand­book, Di­rec­tory and Al­manac for the year of Our Lord 1903” has to say about the ven­er­a­ble old lady: “This hos­pi­tal was com­pleted in 1887 at a cost of about £8,000. It is beau­ti­fully sit­u­ated, be­ing built on a hil­lock on the south­ern side of the har­bour, which it faces, and is about 50 feet above sea level. It is about half a mile dis­tant from the town of Castries, and a splen­did car­riage road leads to it.” It sounds idyl­lic, doesn’t it? But it was not for ev­ery­one.

“Ad­mis­sion of pa­tients is re­stricted to cases re­quir­ing sur­gi­cal as­sis­tance, acute dis­eases re­quir­ing con­stant at­ten­tion and nurs­ing, and chronic dis­eases re­quir­ing spe­cial hos­pi­tal treat­ment. Per­sons, how­ever, may be ad­mit­ted into the hos­pi­tal as pay­ing pa­tients, when­ever there is ac­com­mo­da­tion for them, on the writ­ten re­quest of any house­holder res­i­dent in Castries or of any master of a ves­sel ly­ing in the har­bour.”

In 1901, the num­ber of cases treated was 2,186. The hos­pi­tal had 150 beds. The Colo­nial Sur­geon and the As­sis­tant Colo­nial Sur­geon vis­ited the hos­pi­tal twice a day on al­ter­nate days each.

In ad­di­tion to serv­ing at the Vic­to­ria Hos­pi­tal, the afore­men­tioned gen­tle­men also at­tended the Castries Dispensary, which was at­tached to the Baron Asy­lum, and of­fered “daily med­i­cal ad­vice, attendance and medicine gra­tu­itously to the poor.” Again, the gen­tle­men took it in turns to at­tend on al­ter­nate days. Dur­ing 1901, the num­ber of per­sons ap­ply­ing for free medicines was 7,644.

It is quite amaz­ing to think that over 100 years ago more than 7,000 poor peo­ple were re­ceiv­ing free med­i­ca­tion and at­ten­tion in Castries.

The Baron Asy­lum ad­joined the Poor Asy­lum. It was erected us­ing funds left by Mr. Joseph Seligny Baron, “a coloured na­tive of St. Lu­cia, for the re­lief and main­te­nance of the poor, aged and in­firm in­hab­i­tants of Castries.” Dur­ing 1901, “a num­ber of in­cur­ables were moved into it.”

Way back then, there were also smaller hos­pi­tals at Soufriere, Vieux Fort and Den­nery as well as Gov­ern­ment Dis­pen­saries at Anse la Raye, Choiseul, La­borie, Soufriere, Mi­coud, Den­nery, and Gros Islet, where medicines were dis­pensed at no cost to pa­tients. The num­ber of pa­tients who re­ceived med­i­ca­tions gra­tu­itously from th­ese dis­pen­saries in 1901 was a whop­ping 9,654.

It is almost unimag­in­able that, in 1901, 17,298 in­di­vid­u­als out of a pop­u­la­tion of 49,883 re­ceived free medicines and treat­ment from th­ese hos­pi­tals and dis­pen­saries – that’s more than a third of the peo­ple who lived on the is­land!

The Vic­to­ria Hos­pi­tal also had a Sailors’ Ward, fi­nanced by a levy on all ves­sels en­ter­ing the port of Castries, for the re­cep­tion and treat­ment of sea­men.

In 1902, the Yaws Hos­pi­tal, which had been sit­u­ated on Rat Is­land in Choc Bay, was moved to the Mal­gretoute Es­tate on the seashore to the south of Soufriere, where all per­sons suf­fer­ing from the skin dis­ease were seg­re­gated. In­ter­est­ingly, “Med­i­cal of­fi­cers, mag­is­trates, min­is­ters of re­li­gion, po­lice or other con­sta­bles” were “em­pow­ered by law to re­quire per­sons suf­fer­ing from Yaws to go or to be re­moved to this hos­pi­tal." In 1901, the num­ber of Yaws cases treated was 82, of which 50 were dis­charged cured. No deaths oc­curred.

Rel­a­tively speak­ing, and tak­ing into ac­count the limited means avail­able in those days, it seems that the au­thor­i­ties did a pretty good job of pro­vid­ing health ser­vices to the is­land’s pop­u­la­tion – 113 years ago.

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