GREAT BAY, St. Maarten – “As Ministry responsible for Health, the Ministry of VSA (Public Health, Social Development and Labour) is constantly dealing with health complaints that are the result of Environmental pollution such as running septic water, air pollution such as at the Leonard Connor school and the dump.
“Dr. Virginia Asin of CPS or collective preventative services, a department of Ministry of VSA, took the initiative to organize a very candid and productive workshop. As a result of the workshop, we are expecting a report with actionable steps to be produced on short notice with the input of various stakeholders.
“This report will make multi-ministerial recommendations on how to protect the health of the people by structurally tackling Environmental health. Naturally, the emphasis will be on prevention," stated Minister of Public Health Emil Lee.
During the workshops, there were several discussions about the role of VSA and other ministries. Clearly, the Ministry of VSA has a role in setting the standards, parameters and indicators by law and policy. Also, the subject of Solid and Liquid Waste Management on Sint Maarten was addressed and options and opportunities discussed for solutions to the challenges through a Reduce Reuse Recycle strategy.
This has to happen through an “Integrated approach where all partners and stakeholders know and comply with their responsibility.
The first day of the workshop was an internal Ministry VSA session with an in depth discussion on the roles and responsibilities of the Health Sector when it comes to the Environment.
On day two, the Ministry of VSA invited key stakeholders with the purpose to discuss their role and responsibilities in environmental matters and to get their feedback and input on the challenges and solutions. According to Dr Asin, "We were delighted to have participation from public and private sector representatives such as representatives from the ministry of VSA, VROMI and TEATT, Port St. Maarten, Fire Department, Department of Communication, SLS Laboratory, SXM Airport, representatives of the hospitality sector, Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC), Island Global Yachting Marinas, the Nature Foundation, and the Civil Aviation/Shipping Authority.
The attendees received two presentations. The first one was the concept of Environmental Health within the scope of sustainable development and social determinants of health disease burden. The second one was on wastewater and solid waste management strategy.
The objective of the workshop as well as the steps to be taken thereafter is to allow the Ministry of Public Health to be able to address the public health aspects surrounding the environment in a timely manner along with ministerial partners and other relevant key stakeholders on environmental health matters.
The workshop started on May 8, and was facilitated by representative from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Office of Caribbean Program Coordination, Ton Vlugman, Senior Advisor, Water, Sanitation and Environmental Health.
Vlugman has an MSc. in Environmental Health Engineering from the Technical University of Delft in 1984 and is working for the Pan American/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) since 1987, serving CARICOM countries and presently working as Senior Advisor.
Vlugman has been involved in many projects of varying aspects of environmental health, including: groundwater quality monitoring program in Barbados; operational status of wastewater treatment plants in 14 CARICOM countries; solid waste management in many Caribbean countries; sick building syndrome, negative impacts from small scale gold mining in Suriname; health promoting schools projects in Bahamas and Suriname and other community based projects ; impregnated bed netting project (malaria project with support from Rotary); SMART Hospital Assessor; integration of rainwater harvesting in water supply systems at health care facilities.
Since many of the other Caribbean countries have similar issues with developing integrated waste management programs, the stakeholders believe that there are opportunities for a regional approach to developing solutions including but not limited to sharing best and worst practices, sharing research and economic feasibility studies, combined purchasing/negotiating strategies, and benchmarking costs.
Once the report from PAHO and CPS have been finalized, the draft report will be shared with the stakeholders for comment. The final version will be presented to Council of Ministers for discussion and adoption.