Sands: Time to change course in COVID fight

Declaring that The Bahamas is underperforming in the fight against COVID-19, former Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands yesterday called for “the return of participatory governance”, the construction of a modular facility to focus exclusively on infected patients, and expressed concerns over the fact that many people are being denied access to care for ailments unconnected to the coronavirus because of the strain the pandemic is placing on the nation’s healthcare system.

Sands, who cares for COVID-19 patients, said the modular facility should be built outside of Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH), and outside of Doctors Hospital “so that we can concentrate care”.

He suggested that such a facility would have around 150 beds.

“We can ask Direct Relief, we can ask some of the other NGOs to assist us in building a modular facility that’s robust where we can have an intensive care unit (ICU), operating rooms, so that we can reduce the splitting of care,” he said.

While the relief agency Samaritan’s Purse recently set up a 28-bed isolation and treatment unit on the grounds of PMH, that facility does not include ICU treatment and no ventilators are being provided or operated by Samaritan’s Purse. Only step-down care is being offered.

The number of COVID-19 patients in ICU increased from eight on Sunday to 19 on Monday, the Ministry of Health said.

Sands noted that the staff at PMH and other facilities are stretched and many feel that their leaders do not care about them.

Speaking about the strain on the current facilities, he said, “It means that, Mr. Speaker, ordinary people coming in with heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, kidney failure cannot get care. That is happening in this country today…”

Sands also suggested the weekend lockdowns on New Providence and Abaco are ineffective.

“If we are going to lock down, let us do it well, let us do it right,” he said.

“This on-off, halfway is not making sense. What it is doing, in my view, is harming businesses; it is forcing people to jam up in front of the food stores, in front of the pharmacies, etc., because now they are desperate to go and get their goods and services.”

Sands, who did not support a resolution passed in the House of Assembly yesterday to extend the state of emergency to November 30, said, “…The processes that we have engaged in over the last six to eight months have not worked.

“They have not worked, Mr. Speaker. We are underperforming as a nation. We are underperforming relative to all of our peers in the region; and as it relates to cases, 80 percent of the rest of the world, and as it relates to deaths, 89 percent of the rest of the world.”

Sands noted that The Bahamas has far higher cases than the world average of 5,576 cases per million; the average of deaths is 149 deaths per million. 

Up to yesterday, The Bahamas had 136 confirmed COVID-19 deaths.

The former minister said continued high test positivity rates indicate clearly that not enough testing is being done in The Bahamas, noting that the World Health Organization stipulates a testing rate of five percent or less be maintained for at least two weeks for countries to know that there is sufficient testing.

As of Monday, the positivity rate in The Bahamas was nearly 19 percent. 

Sands said there should be 1,000 tests per day in The Bahamas to test enough people. He noted that such a goal may not be possible with RT-PCR testing alone, but said antigen tests could help.

On the issue of participatory governance, Sands said, “It is time to end the role of the competent authority. I’ve said it before. I will say it again, because the competent authority by definition is an affront to participatory democracy.”

Pointing out that the vast majority of the Cabinet was absent from the House yesterday because of quarantine, he suggested that Cabinet and Parliament meet virtually or in a different environment to make social distancing possible.

The former health minister also highlighted the need for The Bahamas to have better access to drugs like Remdesivir, used to treat COVID-19.

He pushed for greater support for food security and called for access to gyms and other exercise facilities.

“We have arbitrarily, and some might say capriciously, decided that we are going to shut down gyms and exercise places and I believe that is to the detriment of the public,” Sands said.

He also called for the ban on mask importation to be lifted. 

“It has served its purpose and people sometimes want to get access to better quality masks, so that they can protect themselves and their families. I think people should have liberal access to high quality masks,” Sands said.

The former minister said his assessment of the current state of affairs was not intended to denigrate or lambaste anyone. He said he did not want to be critical without offering possible solutions.

“We need to be talking with each other, listening to each other, not shouting, rowing and screaming at each other because the lives of people in this country are at stake,” he said.

“The economy of this country is at stake. We don’t need to be bickering, shouting, talking about FNM and PLP and DNA and so forth; we need to be working together to solve this problem.” 

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Rachel Knowles

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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