Antigua St John's - With more than 50 percent of deaths in the OECS sub-region being attributed to cancer and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs), the milestone groundbreaking ceremony of The Cancer Centre Eastern Caribbean (TCCEC) that took place on Thursday on Michael’s Mount below the Mount St. John’s Medical Center (MSJMC), is being viewed as the dawn of a new era for medical care in the region, and by extension the hemisphere.
Director General of the OECS Secretariat Dr Len Ishmael said the $5 million centre brings with it the common sense practical acknowledgement of a regional need, and the move demonstrates a show of confidence by its principal investors.
The public/private joint venture partnership between OECS governments, Global Health Partners Ltd, and MEI Healthcare Corporation is poised to begin offering services to the sub-region in less than 12 months.
Present at the launch were local and OECS government officials and diplomats. Health Minister Wilmoth Daniel was absent. Permanent Secretary in the Health ministry Edson Joseph, whom, according to Master of Ceremony Maurice Merchant, has taken the leadership role in the ministry, instead represented the government body.
Aymer lauded the fact that the initiative comes with solid “political will and wisdom” from Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer, who birthed the idea several years ago.
The new centre is expected to enhance primary cancer prevention care and offer state-of-the-art treatment on par with acclaimed institutes in the United States and elsewhere.
“It promises to become a centre of excellence in the region,” Aymer said, adding that the institution will establish linkages with counterparts outside the region.
The Antigua and Barbuda Investment Authority (APUA) provided support for the project by specifying a location for the building and recommending contractors and other professionals to assist in its development.
Dr McChesney Emanuel, chairman of the ABIA, was on hand to praise the erection of the new centre. He congratulated the prime minister and his team of investors and medical professionals for their role in realizing the vision.
Further to that, appointed president and CEO of TCCEC Dr Conville Brown said the regional center is being modeled from his own establishment in The Bahamas – The Cancer Centre Bahamas, which has been in existence for over two decades.
The Bahamian native forms part of the team that will run the center locally. Among them are Prof Arthur Porter – Chairman and Physician-in-chief; Prof Karol Sikora – Director of Medical Oncology; Dr Corrine Sin Que – Director of Pediatrics Hematology and Oncology; and Prof Don Ragan – Prof of Radiation Physics, Consultant Physicist and Director.
Other board members include Cottrille George – Vice Chairman, Dr Rhonda Sealey-Thomas, Elnora Warner, Jeffrey Jospeh, an MEI Healthcare, Inc representative, Ramdall Arlett – ex-officio, and Martin Camacho – secretary to the board.
According to Dr Brown, who admitted to being a cardiologist and not a cancer specialist, the structure of TCCEC represents multiple partnerships, all initiated by Prime Minister Spencer.
Prof Arthur Porter, a University of Cambridge graduating cancer physician with an Antigua & Barbuda medical license, said he has been moved by the prime minister’s initiative and was honored to be on board.
“It is really a privilege when I’m at a place like this. Prime Minister, you kept us going,” he said. “Cancer is no longer a death sentence.”
Prof Porter is also a co-founder and principal of The Cancer Centre Bahamas.
He said while the structure of the building is of notable importance, what goes into it and what it produces will make all the difference. He assured that with his input, TCCEC would be on par with admired institutions in Florida and Minnesota in the United States, as well as other renowned cancer treatment centres around the world.
The professor revealed that based on information reaching him on Thursday morning, one of the most important pieces of equipment needed for the center is already in the process of being shipped to Antigua from the United Kingdom.
“Our goal is to make cancer fail. Our goal is to be able to say cancer is a thing of the past. I don't know if we’ll ever be able to do that, but what I want you to know that anybody who has a chance of being cured will be cured in a facility here… their mortalities and outcomes will be no different from anywhere else. We will be able to give them the best...” the professor said.
Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health Edson Joseph said, “The Ministry of Health remains committed to the fight against diseases and cancer is one of them.” He too lauded the progress of the center and welcomes its commissioning in the next several months.
Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer said that while the move might appear seamless it is indeed a major but necessary challenge. He said it out of these challenge that the Cancer Centre was created through a partnership designed to deliver important care to all the people of the OECS.
The PM pointed out that the center, when coupled with the Cancer Center Bahamas, stands to adapt the American College of Radiation Oncologists accreditation that represents quality care and service that pars with first world countries like the USA. This will qualify TCCEC as an American college of radiation oncology.
The adoption would signal the beginning of the long-awaited entrance into the medical tourism market, a move that ABIT is already making plans to capitalize on.
“Cancer has been stealing the lives of many of our people,” the PM said, pointing out the cancer mortality rate in Antigua and Barbuda stands at 167 for every 100,000.
“Every day we lose fathers who should have become grandfathers, and mothers who should have become grandmothers. Families also loose important values and traditions, which should have been passed to children. As countries we loose many years of economic productivity and skills that should have been used to build our region."
He added, “It is important to note the caliber of persons who are part of this project. Although modest and unassuming they are imminently qualified in their fields. The governments of Antigua and Barbuda and the OECS commend …(them) for the dedication they have shown to this project. We look forward to a successful partnership.”
He challenged TCCEC principals to establish an organisation that can be coined as the OECS Cancer Foundation or the OECS Cancer Society that will have a chapter on each island with the aim of educating the people of the sub-region on cancer prevention, and ultimately provide a holistic solution to the challenge facing the region.
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