Minister of Health and Wellness, Lt. Colonel Jeffrey Bostic. (FP)

Minister of Health and Wellness, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Bostic, has praised a regional campaign focusing on mental health and psychosocial support in disaster management in the Caribbean.

The campaign, which is being piloted by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), was officially launched at a ceremony at PAHO headquarters, Dayrells Road, Christ Church, on Wednesday.

Themed Stronger Together, its primary aim is to offer information and strategies which will assist regional communities to better cope with the psychological impact of adverse events, before, during and after a disaster. It also seeks to reduce the stigma associated with seeking mental health and psychosocial support.

Lt. Col Bostic described the initiative as “one of the most important and significant initiatives ever launched in relation to disaster response in the region”.

He shared his experiences as a member of the Barbados Defence Force in responding to disasters around the region at a time when there was a dearth of this type of information.

“And what appeared to me, at the time, to be people who were not interested in helping themselves, I realized several years afterwards, was in fact people who were psychosocially and mentally impacted by what had transpired in their countries,” he explained.

He recounted arriving in Grenada in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan to find “no semblance of governance at all for the first week; policemen did not show up for work; the Governor General was in his damaged residence on his own; citizens were looting and walking around with bottles of whisky and so on in their hands, not looking as though they knew what they were doing.  And all of that was the negative impact of what was a serious and devastating hurricane on that country.”

Coast Guard personnel in Dominica following the passage of Hurricane Maria. (FP)

Lt. Col. Bostic was also in Montserrat after the volcanic eruption and declared: “Of all of the disasters that I have responded to that one impacted me the most because I had never seen an island that was hit by a volcano, and seeing a complete town in ash and seeing metal crumble in the way that I saw, it really impacted me in a negative way.”

While Barbados has never been impacted by these types of disasters, he said the collapse of the apartment complex at Arch Cot, Brittons Hill, some years ago also had a negative impact, particularly on the first responders – the firemen and members of the Defence Force – “who consistently went into the hole trying to rescue those children.  The fact that there were children trapped down below and hearing the voices, but not being able to reach those children, that had a significant impact on the first responders”.

It was because of all these experiences, he said, that he could speak to how vital it was to have effective coping mechanisms in place to support all who were impacted by such occurrences.

The Government Minister asserted: “After experiencing what we have experienced in this region over the last several years, and the fact that we have come together collectively as a region, and collaboratively with all the stakeholders, and we respond to anything within this region as a cohesive unit, it is vitally important for us to really look at this other important aspect of emergency preparation and response.”

He pledged the full support of the Ministry of Health and Wellness and the Government and people of Barbados to the campaign, which he said, was very timely, coming at the start of the 2019 hurricane season.

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