August 17, 2010
CAT Scan machine needed urgently

Tue, Aug 17, 2010

St Vincent and the Grenadines will always be a poor country. This is a fact we might as well accept.

The plural nature of our tiny country makes the situation even worse. The land masses we exist on (150 square miles in total), are home to 106,000 people, scattered over six islands.{{more}} Basic Government services such as education, health and security need to be replicated on St. Vincent, Bequia, Mustique, Union, Canouan and Mayreau, thus adding to the expense of running our nation.

Unless we wake up one day and discover oil, gold or diamond, successive governments will more than likely find challenges in making ends meet and providing the services needed by the people. There are some services, however, that ought to be given priority because of the difference they make in terms of whether someone lives or dies.

A Trinidadian neurosurgeon who recently conducted a successful four-hour operation at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital on a person with a spinal cord injury, in an interview with SEARCHLIGHT in our weekend edition of Friday, August 13, stressed the importance of moving quickly in cases where there is injury to the spinal cord. He said if intervention takes place within the first 48 hours after the trauma, the outcome is much better than if surgery is done several days or weeks later. But before surgery is even contemplated, a diagnosis must be made, and in most instances, this requires the use of a CAT scan (Computerized Axial Tomography) machine.

Unfortunately, St. Vincent and the Grenadines no longer has a functioning CAT or CT scan machine, a tool now considered basic in the diagnosis of many conditions including brain and spinal cord injuries, growths in and injuries to the chest and abdomen, strokes, fractures, etc.

Patients needing CAT scans now have to fly by air ambulance to Grenada, Barbados or Trinidad to be diagnosed. Up to two weeks ago, patients needing to be flown out of St. Vincent and the Grenadines lying down, had two options. They could either charter an air ambulance jet from Miami at a cost of over EC$80,000, or they could use SVG Air, whose prices ranged between EC$4,000 and EC$6,000.

Then came the news from SVG Air last Friday, that as a consequence of the crash of their Cessna 402C air ambulance on Thursday, August 6, that company would no longer be providing such a service. This is very bad news. None of us know if and when we will need an emergency diagnosis using a CAT scan machine. The EC$80,000 charged by the Miami based jet is far beyond the reach of most Vincentians; even the EC$6,000 which was needed to access the service formerly provided by SVG Air must have posed a challenge to many Vincentians, most of whom do not have health insurance.

Some time ago, there was talk of the National Commercial Bank (NCB) and the National Insurance Services (NIS) jointly funding the purchase of a CAT scan machine, but nothing further has been heard of this in recent times. Whatever the red tape holding up the acquisition of the machine and the implementation of the service locally, let’s cut through it as a matter of urgency. Having a CAT scan machine available locally is no longer optional. It is mandatory.