Health and Welfare

Caribbean Islands Table of Contents

In the mid-1980s, Barbadian health indicators showed that the overall health status of the country had improved substantially. In addition, by 1984 the government had taken major steps toward instituting a comprehensive health care service. As a result, Barbados compared favorably with its Eastern Caribbean neighbors in quality and delivery of health services.

Barbados achieved considerable success in reducing its crude birth rate in the 1980s (see Population, this section). Mortality rates, which had been steadily improving since 1974, deteriorated slightly in 1983. The death rate for the population rose in 1983 to 7.9 deaths per 1,000 inhabitants; much of the increase was attributed to a higher infant mortality rate, which rose 15 percent to 24.5 deaths per 1,000 live births. This increase was caused largely by problems arising shortly after birth, particularly pneumonia and respiratory ailments. Life expectancy at birth in Barbados in 1983 was seventy years. Morbidity indicators in the 1980s approximated those found elsewhere in the Caribbean. Only 2.3 percent of all deaths in 1982 were attributed to infectious and parasitic diseases. Statistics from that year indicated that twothirds of all children one year of age and younger were inoculated against diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus and 53 percent against measles. As of mid-1987, Barbados reported fifteen cases of acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

Improved water and sewage disposal was credited with the decline of morbidity rates from 1974 to 1985. The entire population had access to potable water by 1984. In addition, the completion in 1982 of the sewage system in the capital city of Bridgetown dramatically improved the urban sanitation situation. The rest of the island depended on septic tanks for waste disposal; however, plans were underway in 1985 to extend modern sewage facilities throughout the southern and western coastal areas.

Barbados' consistently improving health conditions were the direct result of government efforts to enact a health care program. Between 1978 and 1983, Ministry of Health expenditures, including social security, represented an average of 14.5 percent of total government outlays. The government planned delivery of free health care to all Barbadians through two basic programs, the General Practitioner Service and the Barbados Drug Service. The former was designed to bring medical service to virtually all areas of the island, but it had not been fully implemented. The Barbados Drug Service began operations in 1980 and improved the delivery of prescription and over-the-counter drugs, providing increased efficiency and reduced costs.

In 1985 Barbados health care facilities included one general hospital (Queen Elizabeth's Hospital), one psychiatric facility (the Psychiatric Hospital), six district hospitals, seven polyclinics, and four health centers. Queen Elizabeth's Hospital and the Psychiatric Hospital each contained approximately 630 beds. District hospitals offered an additional 900 beds, and private hospitals were equipped with approximately 60 beds. The polyclinics delivered basic maternal and child care, family planning, and general health education services in rural areas. The health centers offered medical care in remote locations, but they were considered poorly equipped. There were 8.8 physicians and 30 nurses per 10,000 inhabitants in 1982. The Barbados Medical School, a part of the UWI system, was located at Queen Elizabeth's Hospital.

Despite substantial improvements in Barbadian health care, some problems persisted as of the late 1980s. Continued efforts were necessary to improve health care in rural areas. New measures were also needed to deal with alcohol abuse and diseases carried by rodents and wild dogs. Most noticeable noncommunicable health problems were heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. The government sought to respond to these health problems with expanded education programs, early diagnosis, and drugs.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress