It is stunning to read the remarks of those who credit the now resigned Dr. Duane Sands as having been an effective minister of health on the singular grounds that he took every opportunity in office (including in the COVID-19 crisis) to publicly remonstrate with Bahamians for their lifestyle habits and the resultant morbidities and incidences of non-communicable diseases.
We live in a society of increasing disparity between the privileged and underprivileged, on both a social and economic level. The scale of the lifestyle issues we face (from crime to delinquency to dietary and health choices) reflects this disparity and the failure of politicians to give it anything but lip service.
It is no coincidence that those of us who, like Dr. Sands, were privileged by the lottery of life and parentage, largely escape the most negative demographic trends in health (which, incidentally, characterize underclasses everywhere, from Black America to Glasgow and Liverpool).
Contributing factors like functional illiteracy, broken homes, social deprivation and generational poverty simply do not correct themselves on account of ministerial lectures.
Rather, all of these things have been scientifically linked over and over again to government policies that exacerbate inequity and neglect investment in social development. In India, successive studies have demonstrated a definitive link between strong public education for females and positive outcomes in the life choices, health and social advancement of their offspring.
Likewise, everywhere it exists, universal healthcare has drastically improved not just responses to health emergencies, but the overall health profile of populations, including their health education.
According to the director general of the World Health Organization, “Universal health coverage is a political choice. It takes vision, courage and long-term thinking. But the payoff is a safer, fairer and healthier world for everyone.”
Dr. Sands was clearly on the wrong side of that political choice, having done his utmost to discredit a robust version of NHI in opposition and effectively scuppering it once in office. His constant lecturing of largely underprivileged Bahamians on their lifestyles is not impressive when viewed in that context.
Meanwhile, as admirers of Dr. Sands continue to allude approvingly to his words, style and demeanor, 55 bodies were only recently removed from a refrigerated container in Marsh Harbour for burial – some nine months after the storm that killed them, while a tent city graces the site of the Rand Memorial Hospital just as Grand Bahama enters another hurricane season.
That says a mountain about the values and priorities some of us employ in judging public servants.
I continue to hear positive things about Duane Sands on both a personal and a professional level and, given the sources, I do not doubt their accuracy. But his stint as minister of health was a disaster.
— Andrew Allen