by Tricia Simon
Necessity is the mother of invention and at the core of innovation and invention are education and human capital and using what yuh already have.
Here in Grenada that means combining tourism and agriculture in the form of medical tourism.
The advent of Covid-19 has resulted in poverty and anguish in Grenada. But, do we sit and focus on the negatives or look for ways to diversify wid wha we already have. Wha we have…allu..we have agriculture, tourism, ah lot ah luxury rooms and St George’s University (SGU). So where does our institutions of higher education factor into this scheme?
When one thinks of medical tourism, no other country comes to mind except Cuba. Despite Cuba being black listed by the US due to an embargo, US citizens travel in droves for medical treatment and inexpensive medication. Prior to Covid-19, medical tourism was an emerging segment of the tourism industry with several countries standing out as leaders. Dubai coins itself as “Dubai Healthcare City” as a “health and wellness” destination. Today, health and wellness is centered around “nutraceuticals”, defined as a “food, or parts of a food, that provide medical or health benefits, including the prevention and treatment of disease”. Our beauty now comes from what we consume inside our bodies and what is placed on our skin — an we ha bush for so — green gold! And imagine if the whole island becomes organic the organic medicinal marijuana (soon to come) would fly off the shelf, a boon for our economy and local farmers. All we ha to do is get rid ah de scaly pest fass fass before we start to plant medicinal marijuana or no matter wat, dey go take over de weed an we ent go have anything, pes means no weed. Because we cyan spray de weed wid no harmful chemicals, so leh we clean up dis pes fus!
The question is whether at this time SGU needs to grow once more and actually begin to conduct (a) cutting edge medical research (b) medical technology development and (c) a world-class hospital since they offer a world-class medical school so we can offer medical tourism in Grenada? Medical tourism centered around SGU and health at its core would be a boon for Grenada’s economy and SGU’s bottom line. SGU would simply offer another product and imagine a cutting-edge hospital where SGU can treat its staff, students, medical tourist and the Grenadian populous. SGU’s competitive advantage is its proven track record of producing world class doctors and collaborations with respected institutions as a trusted partner to collaborate and develop for their mutual benefit, plus being located in Grenada the Beautiful!
Health and education as stated in a prior article are core ingredients for creating wealth. The parish of St David is the only one on the island without a town. Close to St David there are several world-class marinas and enough space to build a world-class hospital and a town which would inevitably form around this hospital. We can never have too many such facilities. With a designation of being a “medical tourism” haven we need to ensure Grenada has the capacity to facilitate the influx of interested persons. Places such as Dubai and Singapore contain cities designated to medical tourism, can we join the list?
Cosmos Williams, president of the National Taxi Association stated that the majority of tourists visiting Grenada are middle-aged. From a demographics perspective we know that typically, at middle-age health issues tend to arise. Imagine, with a world-class medical hospital, individuals seeking medical tourism would flock to Grenada. We are blessed in Grenada the Beautiful with clean water, sky, soil, we plant healthy medicinal plants, spices, foods and most important Grand Anse Beach — all needed for medical tourism in the middle of Covid-19. In a post Covid-19 world, medical tourism with health and wellness would be a booming industry as every individual would be focused on recovery — we need to be visionary and take advantage of this opportunity. Medical tourism in Grenada would provide numerous high skilled, high-paying jobs such as nurses, doctors, ambulance drivers, medical physicists, medical speech-language pathologists, nurse midwives, occupational therapists and physical therapists, develop the farming community and drive youth employment.
Grenada provides universal health coverage to the populous where the majority of medical care is provided by the state free of charge to citizens (ah know ah whole seta people go complain, but I lived in Canada for over 25 years and in 2019 ah went in d hospital in Toronto at 10 am and at 4 pm de doctor cum and say, “Sorry Miss Simon, I forgot about you.” Recently, I was in the garden wearing a slipper, tripped and twisted my knee. I went to the General Hospital in Grenada, I was seen by a doctor within 30 minutes, got an x-ray ($30) and given ah prescription, but before ah did leave home meh step-mudder tell meh to put turmeric (saffron) on it. The nurses had a blast, it was close to Independence 2021 an dey say ah make ah oildown wid meh knee, but ah swear the nex mornin meh foot was good — de saffron (turmeric) wuk! I was very pleased with the medical services I received. In Grenada, we need to applaud our medical providers especially with the limited resources they work with.
Medical tourism in the form of dental care is alive and thriving in Grenada, dental practitioners provide world class dental care to visitors who fly in specifically to obtain dental care. Imagine, touching down at MBIA, being driven in luxury to a hotel, taking a swim, obtaining dental care and spending the rest of the week enjoying Grenada the Beautiful!
With SGU devising a separate model of healthcare where individuals who are able to pay for their coverage are able to use their services this would also provide an enormous benefit to the public healthcare system and populous. Specialists in age-related diseases and conditions such as cardiovascular, hypertension, cancer, diabetes and dementia would be required to treat individuals at the local hospital as well. This would save locals the high cost of travelling to other states for medical care. I sincerely hope I am around to see the sod being turned for SGU’s state-of-the-art hospital. Maybe the new CBI programmes for tourism can pivot and invest in such a venture — medical tourism. Demographics show that the baby boomers by 2030 would all be 65 years or older. The Boomers all want to live healthy active lives after retirement, thus public spending and their personal investment in healthcare and wellness would be astronomical — a huge opportunity for growth.
Delving into medical tourism would also provide much-needed income for the National Health Insurance scheme about to be launched in Grenada from taxes and fees paid by the private and for-profit medical tourism industry. Most important, Grenada’s public healthcare system should remain that way — public, as a public good. The data shows that countries with public healthcare such as Canada fare much better compared to nations without universal healthcare systems such as the United States in regards to health. In countries such as the United States the healthcare system results in high cost of care due to several reasons. Countries with “Best Health Care Systems” contribute to better overall health of the population. In regards to healthcare in the Unites States a recent 2015 Commonwealth Fund report stated, “before the major provisions of the Affordable Care Act were introduced — the United States had worse outcomes and spent more on healthcare, largely because of greater use of medical technology and higher prices, compared to other high-income countries.” In Grenada, England and Canada, we have universal healthcare, funded by the government and it is a hold grail, never to be touched by privatisation for it would be political suicide, as a matter of fact that discussions never come up — it is off the table in Canada! Yuh mad — dou touch we OHIP.
At present, medical volunteerism is another big aspect of tourism in Grenada where places such as True Blue Bay host volunteers close to the world renowned Grand Anse Beach. These volunteers immerse themselves in the local communities, food, spices, history and culture of Grenada. Individuals such as Lotten Haagman of Sea Breeze stated that she is already involved in medical volunteerism where students in the 5th year of their medical programme from the UK visit Grenada for a 4-week “Medical Elective Abroad” stint. For the past 13 years she has emersed herself in medical and community tourism by hosting approximately 70 students each year. Haagman has also stressed the importance of community tourism wherein her students are immersed in the local Grenadian community where key relationships are formed and built. These relationships create lasting bonds where even when the volunteers return, they still engage with members of the local community and purchase local items.
Dr Guido Marcelle, a pharmacognosist with extensive and expert knowledge in the medicinal, herbal and spices of Grenada as well as food as medicine stated, “in Grenada, we have an extensive diversity of plants with a great potential for advancing and blending into our health and nutritional foods. This presents the opportunity to be extended into the medical tourism industry which would provide immense economic benefits to Grenada and the world as a whole.” He likens the agricultural vault of Grenada to a sleeping giant which needs to be fully exploited as a new offering to the world.
In Grenada, we need to emulate our neighbours such as Barbados, where it is said that, “Barbados is a medical tourism hub of excellence and a leading destination for IVF, rehabilitation, and a variety of surgical and non-surgical procedures.” Grenada, like Barbados possess a medical school on its soil, thus it is evident that the atmosphere for medical tourism is present and successful in the Caribbean basin. At this point we need to engage with our neighbours such as Barbados, the diaspora and other stakeholders for expertise on how to develop the medical tourism industry in Grenada.
My brothers and sisters who reside in the diaspora and Grenada, the reality is that individuals complain about the state of the medical system in Grenada. This is the time for the medical fraternity in Grenada and the diaspora, as well as other individuals in the diaspora to invest and improve Grenada’s medical system. Ah go call ah spade ah spade — the reality is that locals and members of the diaspora cannot complain and say “dey selling out Grenada” when the reality is that jobs need to be created as a way to alleviate poverty and sustain a functioning society. So, if we as Grenadians fail to come together to help build and advance Grenada and other individuals see the opportunities and invest, then we as Grenadians are failing our nation. Once policies and practices are in place to protect budding industries and dialogue is held for input and when important decisions would be made to impact that industry there should and there would be investment, and that invest should come from we Grenadians fus.
So leh we put we money weh we mout dey an invest in Grenada — set up a cooperative, odderwise doh complain! Cooperatives in Grenada are some of the most successful business models in the spice industry, gas and fishing, tink of sou sou, wen we want to save we come together and everybody get dey han. Den yuh cyan come home, pass by de rum shop (after yuh finish quarantine), eat ah 3-stone oildown on de side ah d road wid some coconut water, den get your world class medical care. We are our brother’s keepers and need to look after each other and always do what is best for Grenada. Unite, come together as this is a golden opportunity in medical tourism! The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) applauds countries such as Israel and India with diaspora bonds and Jamaica (venture investment) which are being built by their diaspora with significant investment, leh we learn from dem nah!
So allu…wey we dey an wey we going? What legacy do we as adults leave for the “youts”? Meh ant in de US call meh an ask for “bush”, well ah in Grenada de beautiful an she go get bush fuh so. We need to capitalise on exporting all we bush because de mo we cut is de mo e grow since we are blessed with healthy fertile soil, sunshine, water and all the necessities for crop growth. So this speaks to export and with medical tourism, exporting our agricultural produce with their medicinal and herbal qualities would be a boon for local producers as long as the pathways through the various agencies to enable export are present. Thus, a central agency should be set up to provide all the information to facilitate easy export such as Export Development Canada. Ah doh want no run around d bush if ah ha to sen some bush to America!
Tricia Simon is an Attorney-at-Law called to the bar in the State of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique and the Province of Ontario, Canada.