Health - Juggling science and realism through an interminable pandemic |31 December 2021
Although the link between the two has always existed, the intricate nexus between health and the economy is more evident now with this two-year-old and never-seeming-to-end Covid-19 pandemic.
In the health field, the responsible ministry has had to find its own way, carefully weighing science and realism to help save the Seychellois nation.
Over time, it has built knowledge and experience and is getting better and better every day at advising the rest of government on robust responses to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The ideal balance of restrictive public health measures and preservation of social and economic activities is not fully clear and still a moving target. However, Seychelles appears to be moving closer and closer to that right balance.
Livid with Covid
The health sector is perceived as both the hero and villain during this pandemic period. The ever-changing nature of the coronavirus, unpredictability of societal and individual behaviours, and evolving science and practice around the Covid-19 response confirm that health authorities around the world are dabbling into unchartered territory while devil-may-care charlatans want to have their day.
The impact of misinformation on the Seychelles public has been nothing short of a shock. The spill-over of the anti-science propaganda machine and its rapid spread across social media and instant messaging platforms that served as their echo chambers, have impacted adherence to public health measures, including vaccination, and may have caused a general mistrust of knowledgeable professionals.
Nonetheless, 2021 has seen much more research, guidance and experience-sharing across countries – making the consequences of national actions clearer and uncovering new ideas or interventions that serve people better.
Every day, new health worker day
The public-sector health services have always worked under strain. This pandemic is testimony to the extent of that strain. With their basic training, bravery and dedication, public sector health care workers had to work long hours amid elaborate demands for better care outcomes while putting up with fatigue and extraordinary risks of infection.
Covid-19 clusters at Seychelles Hospital and the North East Point Home for the Elderly were quickly addressed with minimum impact to other patients or residents.
Despite the many challenges faced by health care workers, positive impacts are beginning to emerge for them in the work field. Increased use of IT (information technology) platforms for communication and coordination, better linkage across the health system and delivering essential health services with newfound skills, both professional and personal, will remain the legacy of this pandemic period.
In addition to the direct impacts of Covid-19 on our new generations, the indirect impacts of repeated interruption of school and work, on diet, exercise, child development, career prospects, the risk for substance abuse, unintended pregnancy, job security, etc., will only be realised in the coming years.
For many, service interruptions and delays of access to basic health services may have impacted health conditions that needed attention.
Further down the line, the full impact of care opportunities missed will become clearer.
The challenges of importing equipment, spare parts, medicines and supplies and doing maintenance and repairs during Covid-19 cannot be overstated.
Not just Covid-19
In parallel to the nation living with the coronavirus, much political, economic and social change has happened – a new health minister was appointed and a whole new challenge in the name of the “ex”-Apdar, now Substance Abuse Division, has been appended to the Ministry of Health.
Minister Peggy Vidot, the new health minister, has repeatedly signalled that she would like, on the one hand, primary health care and, on the other hand, quality of care at all levels of the health system, to improve. Fundamental approaches need to change if those are to be.
In 2021, the ministry worked hard on finalising the text of the new primary health care package for Seychelles and the new National Health Strategic Plan. The Health Care Agency led additional steps in the introduction of the health information system and posited the edification of the new La Digue Hospital as an infrastructure development priority. Meanwhile, a brand new R6 million CT scan machine was commissioned at the Seychelles Hospital.
Whereas all the new functions and preventive measures imposed on health system made access to, and delivery of, health services, much more complicated, they were also a golden opportunity to repair faults of procedures and processes.
The public is still yearning for better services at the point of care. During her 2021 budget speech, the health minister announced that she will be signalling the new orientation of the health ministry in January 2022.
Ever-ready today for tomorrow
In 2021, the expansion of local capacity to provide advanced care for people with serious Covid-19 illness, combined with the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccination programme, has averted many deaths.
Seychelles needs to remain ever-ready for change as the health care needs and conditions associated with Covid-19, continue to evolve. Every sector must explicitly take the pandemic as a risk, when planning for the coming years.
Seychelles needs to continue building resilience at all levels and see how best to prepare for future health emergencies. The need to continuously improve communication and coordination across sectors, and with the public, cannot be overstated.
Gratification and gratitude
Although the bulk of the Covid-19 response work was under the umbrella of the health sector, cooperation and coordination with, and support from, other sectors, including the private sector, religious bodies, and civil society, remained an integral part of the response.
The Ministry of Health thanks the people who tried their best to follow public health measures, supported friends and family through the challenges of quarantine, isolation and Covid illness, and came forward to take their Covid-19 vaccine shots. Together, we will build on this trust further, and continue to work in the best interests of all.