Sun | Jan 17, 2021

Alexis: Health first over beautification - Opposition spokesman urges Holness to divert $1.3b from drain cleaning to life saving

Published:Sunday | November 24, 2019 | 12:47 AM
Dr Shane Alexis, opposition spokesperson on health, addressing a Gleaner Editors’ Forum at the newspaper’s Kingston offices last Thursday.
Dr Shane Alexis, opposition spokesperson on health, addressing a Gleaner Editors’ Forum at the newspaper’s Kingston offices last Thursday.

The Government’s decision to invest $1.3 billion into an islandwide sanitation, drain cleaning and beautification programme is being met with some amount of objection from one medical doctor who feels that the money could be better spent on improving health facilities.

Opposition spokesman on health, Dr Shane Alexis, believes that the money should be invested in improving both the human resources and the physical plants within the health sector, as the mass migration of health professionals has impacted the country’s ability to deal with health crises such as dengue fever, which has claimed at least 44 lives.

“When the prime minister announces $1.3 billion or $15 million to every member of parliament to fight a mosquito in potholes and gullies, the mosquito Aedes aegypti is a domestic mosquito, it is not there and, yes, it is true that I am in representational politics and my opponent will receive that money, let me just say that, but it is not saving lives,” Alexis told editors and reporters during a Gleaner Editors’ Forum held last Thursday at the newspaper’s North Street, Kingston offices.

“That $15 million could have provided an ultrasound [machine] at the Annotto Bay Hospital that will save lives, so our priorities can’t just be for expediency or to make big announcement with big numbers, it has to be driven by technical data and where you have the greatest impact,” he said.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness had disclosed in Parliament recently that the $1.3-billion mitigation programme will be rolled out in the 63 constituencies islandwide and will last for four months. He said the project would focus primarily on the clearing of blocked drains and gullies; debushing of roadsides, gully banks and verges; and the collecting of municipal waste; as well as beautification of public spaces.

The mitigation exercise would be implemented by the National Works Agency in collaboration with the National Solid Waste Management Authority and the Ministry of Health and Wellness. While MPs would get the opportunity to identify the projects in their constituencies, the NWA would have the task of implementing the programme. An additional $1 billion was also invested to fighting dengue.

But given the huge demand for health services, Alexis has questioned the decision to invest in this programme and not the health sector instead.

“We have not invested in our structure in a meaningful way in many years, and breaking ground and announcements are not saving lives,“ he lamented.