In all of the hullabaloo last week, one event passed somewhat under the radar that will impact the lives of many in Antigua & Barbuda and the wider Caribbean.
That event was the opening of the Cancer Centre Eastern Caribbean. Yes, it made front page news, but we think that the potential of the Cancer Centre is such that we cannot allow its opening to pass without giving it its due.
We know that the politically brainwashed among us are hoping for us to heap criticism or pick sides in the “who gets credit” debate, but we are not interested in going down that road.
What we are happy to report is that the long- awaited, state-of-the-art facility will soon start diagnosing and treating patients in Antigua & Barbuda and the wider Caribbean. We are also happy to see that the opening celebration was a bi-partisan affair and free from political overtones, for the most part.
The idea for a Cancer Centre came about in 2009 at a regional health symposium. It was championed by former Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer, whose administration expressed an interest in developing a partnership with the private sector to launch a cancer centre in Antigua, with the latest and greatest technology and services.
The project was made possible through a collaboration between the Government of Antigua & Barbuda, the governments of the OECS sub-region, Global Health Partners Ltd and MEI Healthcare Incorporated. Ground was broken and the centre was expected to be completed that same year. However, it was marred by several delays, including the detention of the former head of the facility, Arthur T Porter.
Challenges aside, perseverance was the saviour of the day and today we are blessed with a facility that holds great potential not only for our healthcare services, but also as a health tourism product.
From the elaborate opening ceremony, with its list of high-profile invitees, it is obvious that the importance of the Cancer Centre was well acknowledged and welcomed by our neighbours. They may even be a bit envious.
For anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer and had to, either suffer from the lack of advanced care at home or bear the burden of astronomical costs to travel overseas, the thought of a local cancer centre must bring a smile to their face. The same will go for their friends and families who have shared in their suffering.
Just the mere fact that treatment is available locally will be a boost to patients’ morale. Many times, cancer patients lack support during their most difficult times because they must travel abroad to seek treatment. In some cases, due to cost, patients have had to travel alone with no one close to hold their hand and offer the words of encouragement and comfort that only friends and family can provide.
For that one benefit alone, the Cancer Centre will deliver a high level of care for those that have been diagnosed with this awful disease.
We at the Observer rejoice in the arrival of the Cancer Centre to our shores because we lost our beloved “Fergie” to prostate cancer. Some 12 years ago, Samuel “Fergie” Derrick, co-founder of the Observer Media Group of Companies, lost his long battle with prostate cancer and left this world far too soon. His love of Antigua and his belief that he would “beat this one” kept him with us until his condition required treatment overseas. At first, he travelled regionally, but eventually, he had to seek advanced treatment in the United States.
Fergie endured those treatments without complaints, save one: he wanted to return home. His fear, if you want to call it that, was that he would die in a foreign land and not at home in Antigua. Fergie got his wish. He hung on long enough to return but died shortly thereafter.
We are not doctors or psychologists, so we cannot offer any opinion on the positive benefits of receiving treatment at home surrounded by a support group of friends and family. And while there may be no direct statistical benefit, we are certain that there is benefit to anyone’s emotional well-being during those trying times.
For us, home means Antigua & Barbuda, but the Caribbean is small enough that most of us have contacts and support wherever we may travel in our extended paradise, so the Caribbean is our home. And, as our Caribbean brothers and sisters look for treatment, Antigua could be their home away from home.
That is why the Cancer Centre Eastern Caribbean is such an important milestone in our health services and, if we are allowed one request, we would ask that the government always ensure that the facility is maintained in top condition for the benefit of all.
Congratulations to everyone who made this a reality.