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Bahamas confronts challenges on path to full health equity

Minister of Health Perry Gomez of The Bahamas outlined his country’s health priorities and how the Pan American Health Organization’s technical cooperation can help address them, during a Dec. 17 briefing for PAHO’s executive management and technical staff. The briefing was part of a series of meetings at PAHO headquarters this week to discuss the Organization’s technical cooperation activities in The Bahamas and in the Caribbean as a whole.

Dr. Gomez told PAHO staff that his country is committed to providing universal access to quality health care, but he said there are a number of challenges it must overcome to meet that goal. These include the fact that nearly 53% of the population lacks health insurance, yet all Bahamians are entitled to free medical care. In practice, Bahamians who depend on public health facilities can face delays in getting needed care, said Dr. Gomez.

A 2006 Blue Ribbon Commission appointed by former Prime Minister Perry Christie and chaired by Dr. Gomez developed a proposal for a National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme, with mandatory participation, which was enacted into law in 2007. The scheme, however, was never implemented. Since then, slower economic growth and decreased public sector funding have raised new obstacles to the program’s implementation. Dr. Gomez said that implementing NHI eventually will be key to ensuring sustainability and equity in the public health services.

“The Bahamas needs universal health insurance,” he said.

Other challenges facing the country’s health system include the growing epidemic of chronic noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), a shortage of allied health professionals (to complement nurses and doctors), weaknesses in information sharing across the health sector, and the need to improve perinatal care to reduce maternal mortality. Priority areas for capacity building include health planning, health economics and financing, monitoring and evaluation, data analysis and information management, and laboratories, Dr. Gomez said.

Two overarching priorities, Dr. Gomez said, are to find sustainable ways of financing the public health sector and to strengthen quality and equity in the health services by building on the primary care model and population-based disease prevention and control. 

“We have a real opportunity in The Bahamas to make a difference in health,” he said. “I hope we can live up to that expectation.”

Dr. Gomez became Minister of Health of the Bahamas in May 2012. He was formerly founder and Director of the National HIV Programme and has been internationally recognized for his work in the country’s HIV response. Among other honors, he was the recipient of the Award for Excellence of the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV and AIDS (PANCAP), for his accomplishments and lifetime of distinguished service.

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