STATEMENT BY MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT AND MEMBER FOR THE NINTH DISTRICT, HONOURABLE VINCENT WHEATLEY AT THE FIRST SITTING OF THE FIRST SESSION OF THE FIFTH HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
Thank you Madam Speaker, I too want to join my colleagues in congratulating you on your return as Speaker of this Honourable House.
Madam Speaker, I want to first thank God for health and strength to put myself forward, and also to the people of the Ninth District for giving me the opportunity to serve in this Honourable House once more. I am totally humbled and honoured by your faith, trust and confidence in me and this Government and it is indeed good to see so many of you here today from Anegada to Jost Van Dyke. Special thanks to my family, friends and my committee.
Madam Speaker, before I go on, I want to extend sincere condolences to the families who have lost loved ones recently, particularly the young man from Virgin Gorda who lost his life in the Anegada waters last evening. It is indeed very tragic and one of the challenges that we must prioritize immediately, that is, medical evacuation from the remote areas of the BVI, whether Anegada, Jost Van Dyke, or Virgin Gorda.
Madam Speaker, the Ministry of Health and Social Development is currently conducting an assessment of the Primary Health Care System to strengthen and improve the delivery of health care in the Territory. The Ministry has partnered with the United Kingdom Health Security Agency (UKHSA) who are currently in the Territory holding several meetings with a wide range of stakeholders from the public and private healthcare sectors and voluntary and community groups involved in and impacted by primary healthcare. Madam Speaker, I had the opportunity to meet with the representatives of the UKHSA on Monday where I was able to advocate for special consideration to be given to Sister Islands and their specific challenges, and to ensure that Primary Health Care Services meet the needs of people across the entire Territory.
Madam Speaker, I have dedicated my first few weeks in office to the Territory’s waste management. It is no secret that the Incinerator in Pockwood Pond, which is managed by the Department of Waste Management has been inoperable for some time now and the intermediary measures implemented by the Department are far from ideal, but are the best considerations under the circumstances. Madam Speaker, the people of the Virgin Islands, especially those most affected in the First and Third Districts deserve better.
The team at the Ministry of Health and Social Development and the Department of Waste Management have created a three-stage strategy to tackle waste management in the Territory holistically. In the short term, the incoming waste will be buried with compacted soil to minimize the risk of sporadic fires and security at the compound will be increased. In the medium term, the Incinerator will be fully repaired with works expected to be completed within the next 8-12 months. In the long-term, various recycling initiatives will be rolled out to include a ban on some single use plastics. Madam Speaker, while the challenges may persist, I would like to assure the public of our commitment to alleviating these issues as soon as possible.
Madam Speaker, during the month of May, we are celebrating our seniors throughout the Territory under the theme “Aging: Unbound”. Madam Speaker, we have many here with us today and they are looking so lovely, they are aging unbound indeed. I find that theme very fitting, as we navigate creating more inclusion and support for our seniors. There is so much to learn from them, if we create the environment for them to contribute and engage in meaningful ways. This week I had to opportunity to visit Mrs. Enelle Smith who is the oldest person in the Territory at age 104. We had a very riveting conversation about the affairs of the Territory and the changes that she would like to see implemented.
Madam Speaker, I fully support the Social Development Department’s initiatives to expand their senior engagement services in several communities, including Sea Cow’s Bay and Virgin Gorda within the coming months. It is also my commitment to improve access to high-quality healthcare and social services including long-term care, with particular attention to the needs of remote communities, such as our Sister Islands.
Madam Speaker, last week was Nurses Week under the theme “Our Nurses. Our Future” and I visited nurses from Anegada to Jost Van Dyke to personally show them our appreciation for the tremendous work that they do. While the conditions are not ideal right now, the nurses and doctors still show up and give their very best each and every day. The work that they do is truly invaluable.
Madam Speaker, May is also Mental Health Awareness Month and this year's theme is "Look Around, Look Within". This theme encourages us to look out for others and ourselves; it encourages us to prioritize our mental health while also supporting others. We have to break the stigma associated with mental health because it hinders progress and well-being. Fortunately, there are a whole wide variety of resources available to assist us, including therapy services, educational materials, support groups and programmes, and even online communities. Together, we can foster a culture of acceptance, empathy, and resilience.
Madam Speaker, I am eager to chart the course where upgrades or refinements are required within the Ministry, Departments, Units and Boards that are under my responsibility. The National Health Insurance was a hot topic during the recently concluded General Elections and I have already begun engaging the relevant stakeholders to move forward with the solutions.
Madam Speaker, as it relates to the Social Assistance Grants, I hear the concerns of the residents and I have encouraged the Social Development Department to increase their public relations campaign to ensure that everyone is well aware and understand the process. I am also 100% supportive of the Department receiving additional resources to better assist the public.
Madam Speaker, I have fully committed myself to working with all elected Members to bring about the many changes and opportunities for the Territory and our people, whether it be land for our people, affordable homes, assistance for our farmers and fisher-folks, cleaning up the Territory, improvements in Education or Financial Services. I am here to work and to serve.
Madam Speaker, in closing, I am honoured to be entrusted to lead the change for such an important Ministry, especially given the fact that the subjects under my charge touches the lives of every individual who live and call these islands home. I want to re-affirm my commitment to finding solutions to our challenges and improving our services where necessary.
Thank you for the opportunity to give these brief remarks, and may God continue to bless you and bless these beautiful Virgin Islands.
Thank you Madam Speaker.