Health Minister Richard Panneflek.
PHILIPSBURG--Government has allocated funds in the draft 2020 budget to cover expenses related to the COVID-19 health crisis.
Health Minister Richard Panneflek told Members of Parliament (MPs) on Saturday during a Parliament Central Committee meeting on the draft budget that under the disaster management fund post, NAf. 4.7 million for additional healthcare in relation to COVID-19 has been budgeted. Of this amount NAf. 450,000 is reserved for testing, and more funding will be sought.
In the meantime, St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) had requested liquidity support to be able to deliver the services required to accommodate the COVID-19 pandemic and improve after the crisis.
The medical centre had downscaled its services drastically to be able to facilitate the potential influx of COVID-19 cases and to adhere to international standards. Due to this, the hospital is expecting a decrease in its cash flow, Panneflek said. “To make sure that the hospital is able to keep up with their financial obligations, an amount of NAf. 17.8 million was taken up as part of the stimulus plan.”
According to the minister, “the realistic budget” would need to consider an improved health system to deal with COVID-19-related challenges as experts predict there will likely be a resurgence of COVID-19 in the future.
The ministry’s priority will remain realising a Health Information Management System which includes a syndromic surveillance system to ensure the continuous monitoring of the population’s general health status, in particular the high-risk groups.
In the event of a COVID-19 resurgence, additional budget adjustments for the Department of Collective Prevention Services (CPS) will have to be considered to reflect the cost of a number of measures. These measures include controlling the transmission from sporadic cases to clusters and also importations (from travel/tourism): taking into consideration that control would also be relative to what the country’s healthcare system can manage.
He said putting a grand plan in place without it being logistically feasible (manpower), would defeat the purpose. “The budget would have to reflect increases to continue breaking chains of transmission by signalling, testing, isolating and treating cases; and quarantining and monitoring hot spots of disease through a more sophisticated surveillance system that can be worked on with having two epidemiologists at our disposal,” he said.
The health workforce and hospital capacity will also need to be assessed and enhanced continuously to care for any type of resurgence in cases and robust information systems needed for assessing risks: measuring the response performance and evaluating the progress. This is critical for signalling pitfalls whereby the necessary improvements can be tackled immediately.
A more realistic budget would also have to tackle outbreak risks in high-vulnerability settings and minimise them, such as in schools, churches, public transportation, supermarkets, cinemas, and places with limited ventilation or enclosed ventilation such as sport facilities and gyms. Funding will have to be allocated to addressing this as well.
There would also be a need for promotional campaigns for the Public Health Department, including the development of standards for the general population as it relates to prevention, social distancing, hand washing, respiratory etiquette and even thermal monitoring (fever screenings).
Teleworking, staggering shifts and any other practices that reduce crowding would be necessary as it may be long before the country is able to return to business as usual. “The population has to get on board with accepting the new normal and that they play a key role in preventing a resurgence in cases of COVID-19. Hence, prevention should be maintained, investing funds into creative ways to keep them informed.”
Panneflek said assurance was requested that passing the 2020 budget can provide much-needed funds to purchase and conduct mass testing in St. Maarten for COVID-19. “Testing and contact tracing to ensure that we are controlling the spread of the virus was highlighted to ensure decisive decisions that have measurable results can be taken.
“The ministry shares the opinion that testing and contact tracing is one of the most effective measures – besides social distancing – to combat the spread of the virus. We are in favour of rapid testing and this will be approached structurally,” he said.