THE Ministry of Health this week sought to dispel fears about a possible discontinuation of the special needs assessment programme, claiming that the programme, which is part of its pediatric programme, is being expanded.
The Ministry last month came under fire from the group, “Raise Your Voice”, regarding the special needs assessment programme, which claimed that the programme had been either terminated or discontinued by the Ministry.
The group said that assessment was done by a trained medical and pediatric professional contracted by the Government of St. Lucia through the Ministry of Health and Wellness, and that the evaluation is mandatory for each child who may display issues such as health, vision, social and emotional development challenges, learning disability, poor academic performance, underdeveloped communication and motor skills, among others.
According to the group, the number of children on the waiting list for this programme may well be in the hundreds and while there is a private entity offering the same services, many families cannot afford the fees as they must remain with their special needs child at all times since some children require round-the-clock care or cannot attend school without the assessment report.
“We, therefore call on the Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Allen Chastanet; Minister for Health and Wellness, Sen. Mary Isaac; Minister for Education, Dr. Gale T. C. Rigobert; and Minister for Equity, Social Justice and Empowerment Lenard Montoute, to reinstate this programme, for the benefit of poor struggling mothers at the earliest. The termination of this programme further marginalizes special needs children, specifically those whose parents are poor, underprivileged, unemployed, underemployed, rural and struggling,” the group stated in a release last month.
Senior Communications Officer in the Office of the Prime Minister, Nicole Mc Donald, had immediately refuted the statements made in the release, stating at the time that the assessment of Special Needs Children programme had not been discontinued and not terminated.
Health Minister, Mary Isaac, on Thursday went a step further, saying that the special needs programme is part of the pediatric programme which will be expanded to community centres on the island.
“The special needs programme is enhanced because while we used to have a part-time doctor now we have a full time in-house doctor,” Isaac said.
Dr. Merlene Frederick, Chief Medical Officer in the Ministry of Health, said the pediatric programme takes care of children with a range of conditions, such as children in need of medical attention, children with disabilities and those who may have psychological issues or mental illness.
“Apart from having clinics at various health centres throughout the island, we ensure that children within institutions like the Boys’ Training Centre, Upton Gardens Girls Centre, Transit Home and other homes are taken care of,” Dr. Frederick said.
She added that there are some projects, like the World Pediatric Project, which ensure that children who are in need of specialist care not available on the island are able to access that care overseas.
“Some children go to St. Vincent, others to the USA, all paid for by the project with a significant contribution from the Ministry of Health and Government of St. Lucia,” Dr. Frederick said.
Dr. Frederick spoke of the pending establishment of a unit within the Ministry called the Child and Adolescent Health Unit which will comprise a director of pediatrics, two community pediatricians, with one of them dealing exclusively with psychiatric and mental issues in children, and a clerk. The structure has already been approved by Cabinet with financing currently being sourced.
“For now, we have one position — the community pediatrician — and we are doing our best to work within those limits,” Dr. Frederick said.
St. Lucia has contributed $222,270 to the World Pediatric Project, the first country in the Caribbean to do so.