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Minister of Health and Wellness Opening Remarks at 12th annual Cayman Islands Healthcare Conference

Good evening. I would like to add my welcome to His Excellency’s and also thank each and everyone here along those persons viewing virtually for being a part of this year’s event.   

It is indeed my pleasure to lead the Ministry’s hosting of this 12th annual Cayman Islands Healthcare Conference, especially under the new portfolio’s branding that now includes Wellness.

Indeed, the conference theme, Breathe Easier, speaks to what we hope to achieve with the Wellness division of the Ministry. That is, the promotion and facilitation of healthy behaviours that will result in better physical and mental health outcomes, not only on an individual level but collectively as a country. 

I am excited that this important event has returned to its original three-day format, although with limited in-person attendance due to the recently lowered gathering limits even if we like it or not…. It is yet another positive indicator of everyone’s desire to return to normalcy.

Even as the situation in the country remains fluid, I would like to thank the organising committee for quickly pivoting, once again and making the necessary adjustments to ensure the event take place.

Thank you also to CIGTV for broadcasting the conference live on both your cable and YouTube channels and thank you to Compass Media for your live stream on the Cayman Compass Facebook page.

The Cayman Islands is in, an incredibly unique and fortunate position despite the recent increased in numbers of COVID-19 community positives much of whom are our children and ages that are not yet approved to be vaccinated; we have so much to be grateful for that our people are not very ill, nor has there been anyone up until now and to the best of my knowledge, requiring respiratory support, by God grace and mercy we will not get there as our Vaccine uptake continues to climb day by day giving our people that most need protective shield.

For our countries access to vaccines, our ability to act swiftly even though to some it may seem draconian, and our ability to still move about relatively freely in our country – credit must be given to our professionals in the field, and to YOU the PUBLIC. Who, as hard as it may be in adhering to isolation and quarantine instructions, are vital in the management and control of the invisible but very real COVID-19 virus.

However, there are many of you who are anxious and uncertain about the future, and the dreaded fear of the country having to go back into a lockdown again. These feelings are further intensified as we move toward the country’s welcoming back larger number of tourists, the removal of quarantine for fully vaccinated travelers and then continuing with the phased plan to a full reopening.

It almost seems that people have become overnight experts on the COVID -19 disease, verifying their own versions of what they believe to be truth based on their own beliefs, theories and treatments rather than listening to the medical experts and the science.

The fake news, conspiracy theories and the suspicion around the vaccine must cease.

According to the WHO Director General We are not just fighting an epidemic but also an infodemic. Fake news spreads faster and more easily than this virus, and is just as dangerous”.

I would however encourage you to listen and analyse for yourself. There is so much misinformation circulating in the community, please do not speculate, check the sources and the supporting evidence, only share information that is accurate and clear and, listen to our trusted Public Health professionals.

You may have concerns, such as medical, political or religious reasons, and rightly so, but please go to your health care provider who will reassure and provide you with the information.

It is envisaged, that this conference will help us all to prepare for these eventualities and better understand what to expect as we learn to live with the risk of COVID-19 in our community.

The reality is, we can and will enjoy life, prosper in the new normal, but it is incumbent on each of us to take personal responsibility for improving our physical and mental health in anticipation of what that new environment will look like.

The conference committee has collaborated with public and private sector colleagues, as well as international partners to put together a comprehensive, relevant, informative agenda that will address the many issues we as individuals and as a collective are facing during this COVID-19 pandemic. 

More importantly, you will be given practical advice and solutions to help you navigate these challenges and move toward a place where you feel you can breathe easier.

It will be a full three days, but I believe it will be worth your time.  We have an impressive and diverse lineup of professionals, experts in their field, who will offer thought-provoking and beneficial presentations on subjects relating to respiratory health, climate change, COVID-19, mental health, vaccines, alternative medicine and more. 

First on the programme is Dr. Binoy Chattuparambil, Senior Cardiothoracic, Vascular Surgeon and Cardiac Doctor, who will bring remarks on behalf of Health City Cayman Islands, the Conference’s main sponsor. Health City is a long-time supporter of this event, and over the years has provided dynamic speakers who always bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the discourse that takes place at the conference.  We look forward to hearing from the Health City presenters.

Research suggests that the threats from global pandemics and climate change are interconnected. Both crises affect the health, quality of life and the livelihood of people worldwide and are particularly challenging for small, low-lying islands like Cayman.

COVID-19 has actually been described as climate change in fast motion. Researchers assert that any investments in post-COVID recovery should address both threats.  Around the world, some governments are already tackling both climate change and COVID-19 by integrating climate action and climate RESILIENCY into their recovery plans.

We no longer can separate health policy from environmental policy.  Our health heavily depends on the climate and the other organisms with which we share this planet. Therefore, if we want to help prevent the next pandemic or even just reduce the spread of any disease, the environment must be taken into consideration

We are fortunate to have Mrs. Gina Ebanks-Petrie, Director of the Department of Environment, to talk to us about sustainability and climate resiliency.  She will outline some of the likely local impacts of climate change, provide an insight into some of the steps that have been taken by Government and discuss how we transition to a more sustainable, climate resilient society.

Our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. John Lee, will close out our evening with a few remarks.  Dr. Lee is Chief Policy Advisor to the Government on healthcare matters and he is responsible for leading on National Public Health matters. I think I can safely speak for us as a country when I say that we are grateful for his calm disposition and his wise counsel over the past 18 months as we have waged the battle against COVID-19.  We have come to look forward to hearing what he has to say and tonight is no different.

Tomorrow morning, Dr. Archita Joshi-Bhatt, Consultant in Pulmonology, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine at Health City will start the day talking to us on the topic of chronic respiratory diseases. Known as silent killers, these illnesses are often neglected but are the leading causes of death.  Some examples are lung cancer, cystic fibrosis and sleep apnea. Dr. Joshi-Bhatt’s discussion will focus on COPD, asthma and post-COVID-19 pulmonary fibrosis. These conditions contribute to us not being able to breathe easier, but they are also preventable, and I am sure there is a lot that will be learned from this presentation.

I am also very excited about the session on Complementary and Alternative Medicine. This will be led by Caymanian Herbal Medicine Practitioner and Medical Doctor, Dr Irka Ebanks who heads up the HSA’s first Complementary and Alternative Medicine Clinic, catering to individuals interested in pursuing treatments that fall outside of traditional medicine.

As Caymanians, we know about the properties of various herbs that our elders used to soothe, cleanse and heal, even if we do not employ them ourselves. Nowadays, this type of holistic, natural practice of medicine is becoming increasingly popular as patients seek alternatives to traditional medications, using diet, exercise, vitamins, supplements, herbs and spices and various types of body therapies to heal themselves.

I believe we can breathe easier when we feel physically, mentally and spiritually whole and this session will help us understand how to get there.

As a perfect complement to Dr. Joshi-Bhatt’s talk, Dr. Sanjay Awasthi of Doctors Hospital will speak on the topic of Current Trends and Standards of Care in the Treatment of Pulmonary/Respiratory Malignancies, particularly lung cancer. We all agree that prevention is better than cure but the advances that have been made in treating these diseases are incredible, and more importantly, available here in Cayman. I think just knowing that we can be well taken care of here at home IF we were to fall ill, is reassuring in itself and a reason to breathe easier. 

Some of you may have seen the remarkable images from around the world last year which showed the marked decrease in smog and other air pollutants in big cities due to the world essentially being locked down.  Perhaps, those people here in Cayman living with respiratory illnesses may have felt a difference in the air quality as a result of less vehicles on the road for about five months last year. Whether that particular experience was real or imagined, the fact is that the quality of the air which we breathe in and out every day is integral to our ability to live healthy lives.

In a panel moderated by Nellie Pouchie, Chief Officer in the Ministry of Health & Wellness, Antoinette Johnson, Lab Manager from the Department of Environmental Health, Richard McAree, Environmental Social Governance Programme Manager at Dart and Thomas Ferrara and Rosalind Flavell, international consultants on the ReGen project, will talk to us on the topic of Clear the Air: ReGen’s Impacts on Air Quality and Human Health.

Attendees will learn more about how ReGen plans to transform the George Town Landfill site into a green space and build state-of-the-art infrastructure that will improve recycling and turn un-recyclable materials into electricity to power our homes and businesses, ultimately creating a cleaner and greener Cayman Islands. Reduced greenhouse gas emissions, less waste materials in the environment and more green spaces all translate to cleaner air for all of us, and in turn improved health. 

For parents who are concerned about their children’s health in this COVID era, you will want to attend the session on Optimising and Protecting Child Health in the Post-Closure Era. Dr. Sara Watkin, Consultant Paediatrician and Neonatologist at Integra Healthcare will help parents breathe easier as she covers topics such as understanding COVID, its impacts in children, child health issues arising from the re-opening of Cayman, understanding and defining optimal child health, actions and measures to both protect and to optimise child health and optimal health blueprint for happy, healthy children. Such a timely topic as we move toward reopening the borders and see positives in our children. 

We will also welcome Dr. Mark Hauser, President of Medical Affairs at Baptist Health South Florida, who will present on COVID and lung COVID. So much is being learned everyday about lung COVID; the symptoms are wide-ranging and differ from patient to patient. The long-term lung damage is particularly disturbing and is a complication that prevents victims from breathing easier. I would be remiss if I did not take the opportunity here to encourage anyone who has not had the vaccine yet to do so as soon as possible. The enduring effects of COVID-19 are not completely known but what we DO know is that they are serious and can permanently change your life. I look forward to hearing more from Dr. Hauser on this important subject.

As we come toward the end of a very full day, we will hear from someone who has been helping people in Cayman breathe easier for a long time.  Shannon Seymour, Director & Clinical Psychologist at The Wellness Centre will give us advice on how to cope with anxiety in the new normal.

Managing our stress and anxiety is key to navigating life. Whether it’s exercise, diet, therapy, medication, spending time with loved ones, embracing new hobbies, prayer, meditation, or something else entirely, we must all seek out those activities or behaviours that calm our soul and help us to cope with the inevitable challenges that will come our way. Shannon will give us some practical advice and tools for how to find peace amid trials and not just move through life hoping to survive but to actually thrive.

Our last speaker tomorrow will be Jeri Bovell, a Medical Herbalist at Embodied Holistic Health who, like Shannon, is concerned with improving our quality of life. Jeri does this holistically in conjunction with medical knowledge. She utilises plants and herbs as medication to treat or prevent physical conditions, illnesses and allergies, and has worked with such ailments as diabetes, sleep disorders, allergies, digestive disorders, anxiety, stress, respiratory ailments, circulatory conditions and inflammation.

I hope that you are as impressed as I am with the variety of perspectives that are being presented at this conference. There is something for all of us, no matter what our beliefs are on how to achieve optimal health. The options and solutions that will be offered will give us food for thought and perhaps challenge us to think differently as it relates to how to practice self-care.

Our final conference day is a shorter one but no less compelling. It begins with a presentation from Dr. Edward Fitzgerald, Head of Healthcare at KPMG in Bermuda. Dr. Fitzgerald has written extensively on how COVID-19 has impacted the healthcare industry and how leaders in this important sector can build and sustain a resilient new reality. He has provided global insights, practical advice and tools to clients around the world and on Saturday, he will share some global lessons for recovery and resilience in healthcare. I think this will be very informative for everyone who works in this field.

Sometimes an inability to breathe easy or deal with what life is throwing our way, can lead to engaging in negative behaviours such as substance misuse as a coping mechanism.  Those individuals who are battling with substance disorders and trying to get better find themselves saddled with the stigma surrounding these deviant activities, which can push them further down the road of harmful behaviour.  

Raquel Tobian, Clinical Social Worker and Chemical Dependency Counsellor at Infinite Mindcare will be talking to us about suffocating from stigma.  Topics she will cover include understanding our implicit and explicit biases, examining our personal biases around mental health and substance use disorders, understanding why the stigmas around mental health and substance use disorder are problematic and our personal responsibility in changing stigma.

Our final session on the last day of the conference is a panel about the COVID-19 vaccines.  This conversation is so necessary.  COVID-19 spread across the globe faster than anyone could have anticipated. Despite Western nations having pandemic plans, most of them were caught off guard and unprepared. The question “Could we have done better?” will be asked for years to come. This panel will tackle that very question as well as talk about the COVID-19 vaccine success story. Dr. Lee along with Dr. Charles and Dr. Cummings from the HSA, Dr. Patil from Health City and Dr. Kayes from Doctors Hospital will have the discussion.

My hope is that it will help all of us better understand the COVID-19 vaccine as well as think about the lasting impacts of the pandemic on the world. I think this is a great way to close out the conference, looking toward the future.

At this time, I would like to take the opportunity to thank our sponsors for helping to make this year’s conference a reality. We know that budgets continue to be stretched to their limit, so we appreciate the support that our local and international sponsors have given to this important event.  

To our esteemed speakers and panellists, both local and those joining us from overseas, thank you for being here to share your research, knowledge and experience with us.  Your input is invaluable, and we look forward to hearing from you.

Finally, to the attendees here tonight and watching virtually, thank you for making this investment in your health, and committing to enhance your lives and the lives of your loved ones by seeking out valuable information that will help you succeed.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your time and enjoy the conference. God bless you all.


Submitted by: Ministry of Health and Wellness (CIG)