By Abigail Schultz, Latin America and Caribbean Programs
Two years ago, AmeriCares received an email from Raise Your Voice St. Lucia, an advocacy group that promotes women rights, education and empowerment on the island. Their message to AmeriCares was clear – St. Lucia’s health system was in desperate need of medicines and medical supplies. AmeriCares wanted to find a way to help, and my team, the Latin America and Caribbean Programs team, took up the challenge.
We started having more in-depth conversations with Raise Your Voice about the health infrastructure on the island. How many public hospitals and clinics are on the island? What medicines are they lacking? What are the most common diseases and health concerns of St. Lucians? Are there any NGOs operating in the health sphere?
At that time, we knew there were definite holes that AmeriCares could help fill. But there was an issue: Raise Your Voice did not have the ability to import sea containers of medicines, nor did they have licensed medical professionals on staff. Because of AmeriCares partnership model, it is absolutely critical to find a strong partner with these capabilities. We rely on our partners to assess offers of medicines and supplies, and then distribute the donations among a network of beneficiaries. Their collaboration is key to delivering health care to more people in the most effective way possible, and we were determined to find a partner in St. Lucia.
We were then connected with one of the two public hospitals on the island, St. Jude Hospital, which had a strong interest in partnering with AmeriCares and receiving medical donations. St. Jude was the ideal partner. They had dedicated staff, strong importation capabilities, and significant shortages of medicines and supplies. Even more remarkable was the fact that St. Jude’s original hospital had burnt down in 2009, and since then they had been operating out of the George Odlum Sports Stadium. They had actually set up shop in this sport facility, abandoned in 2003, where they were providing high quality health care with so few resources that we had to help!
Almost a year after the initial conversation took place, in September 2015, we sent a test shipment to St. Jude Hospital. As with all test shipments, this was AmeriCares first opportunity to present the mechanics of our shipment-building process and partnership expectations to St. Jude staff. The shipment was a huge success and cleared customs faster than we had ever experienced in the region. We were impressed, to say the least, and decided to visit St. Lucia to formalize the partnership.
We continued to be impressed throughout our entire visit – with the health care institutions themselves and the staff at each institution. The institutions we visited were extremely clean and had well-maintained pharmacies. In many ways, the facilities exceeded AmeriCares management standards. We were confident that St. Jude Hospital was in an excellent position to become an AmeriCares partner and thrive in the relationship. After assessing the health needs on the island and the sophisticated management of the health care institutions, we are assured that this will be a strong partnership with national reach.
The Latin America and Caribbean Programs team is looking forward to growing this partnership in St. Lucia and continuing to expand our work in the Caribbean over the coming years!