Child obesity and lack of access to pediatric health services to be addressed in Barbuda

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By Orville Williams

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Childhood obesity and the lack of access to pediatric health services on the sister isle, Barbuda, are set to be addressed imminently, through efforts from the Pediatric Department at the Sir Lester Bird Medical Center (SLBMC).

A school-based study done in Antigua back in 2018 revealed that, of the 200 six to twelve-year-olds who participated, around 16 percent were living with obesity and nearly 37 percent were overweight.

This prevalence, coupled with the absence of adequate policy components to address childhood obesity means health professionals are struggling to address a situation that appears destined to get worse.

And while children suffering with obesity and similar ailments in Antigua have the benefit of readily-accessible health services, the same unfortunately cannot be said of those in Barbuda.

“We have nine pediatricians in Antigua and Barbuda [who are] located in Antigua, but we have none that are physically stationed in Barbuda,” Chair of the Pediatric Department, Dr Shivon Belle-Jarvis revealed yesterday during an appearance on Observer AM.

“When we look at health, the World Health Organization (WHO) defines it well, where it is not merely the absence of disease but must include physical, mental and social wellbeing.

“[And] when we look at determinants of health, these are the factors that affect not only an individual’s health, but health at the level of the community. It not only includes your physical environment and your socioeconomic environment, but also the accessibility of healthcare services.

“So, when we ask ourselves the question, ‘what is happening with the health of our children in Barbuda?’ we find ourselves scratching our heads,” she lamented.

The two-day initiative in Barbuda is slated for next Wednesday and Thursday, with an all-day outreach clinic and a community talk on childhood obesity on June 1, followed by a staff training session on June 2.

According to the Pediatric Chair, initiatives of this nature are even more important – considering the prevalence of childhood obesity – due to the logistical challenges parents and guardians face to travel with their children to Antigua to access health services.

“When we look at the cost of coming from Barbuda to Antigua, a round-trip by air is just about EC $380 and a round-trip by ferry is just about EC $200.

“So, imagine having to come over to Antigua for a healthcare visit – you’re already spending almost $500 depending on who is travelling with the child, and then you have to look at possibly seeing a pediatrician within the public health system, which is free of cost, or privately, where there’s an attached cost.

“Accessibility to healthcare should never be limited by one’s financial capacity, and so instead of allowing our children to come, we are going to go to them and provide the necessary services”, she explained.

Dr Belle-Jarvis noted, too, that the initial plan is to host a clinic on the sister isle at least twice annually, and later – depending on the feasibility – expand the initiative to cater to other aspects of infant and child health, including dental health and nutrition.

The SLBMC’s Pediatric Department is collaborating with the Barbuda Council’s Health Department, the Barbuda Ocean Club and the Rotary Club of Antigua Sundown in executing the initiative.

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