Musings are thoughts, the thoughtful kind. For the purpose of these articles, a-musings are thoughts that might amuse, entertain and even enlighten.
As some of you may be aware, I’m a bit of a history buff, and one of my greatest pleasures is perusing old books about St. Lucia, of which I have managed to assemble quite a collection through the years. Strangely enough, when I was at school, I never really understood the importance of history; I found it all rather boring perhaps because the one history teacher that I can remember was only interested in dates and interminable lists of kings.
Take Victoria Hospital, for instance; an institution that seems to have been tottering on its last legs for the past few decades. Believe it or not, VH was once the island’s pride and joy. This is what the “St. Lucia Handbook, Directory and Almanac for the year of Our Lord 1903” has to say about the venerable old lady:
“This hospital was completed in 1887 at a cost of about £8,000. It is beautifully situated, being built on a hillock on the southern side of the harbour, which it faces, and is about 50 feet above sea level. It is about half a mile distant from the town of Castries, and a splendid carriage road leads to it.” It sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? But it was not for everyone.
“Admission of patients is restricted to cases requiring surgical assistance, acute diseases requiring constant attention and nursing, and chronic diseases requiring special hospital treatment. Persons, however, may be admitted into the hospital as paying patients, whenever there is accommodation for them, on the written request of any householder resident in Castries or of any master of a vessel lying in the harbour.”
In 1901, the number of cases treated was 2,186. The hospital had 150 beds. The Colonial Surgeon and the Assistant Colonial Surgeon visited the hospital twice a day on alternate days each.
In addition to serving at the Victoria Hospital, the aforementioned gentlemen also attended the Castries Dispensary, which was attached to the Baron Asylum, and offered “daily medical advice, attendance and medicine gratuitously to the poor.” Again, the gentlemen took it in turns to attend on alternate days. During 1901, the number of persons applying for free medicines was 7,644.
It is quite amazing to think that over 100 years ago more than 7,000 poor people were receiving free medication and attention in Castries.
The Baron Asylum adjoined the Poor Asylum. It was erected using funds left by Mr. Joseph Seligny Baron, “a coloured native of St. Lucia, for the relief and maintenance of the poor, aged and infirm inhabitants of Castries.” During 1901, “a number of incurables were moved into it.”
Way back then, there were also smaller hospitals at Soufriere, Vieux Fort and Dennery as well as Government Dispensaries at Anse la Raye, Choiseul, Laborie, Soufriere, Micoud, Dennery, and Gros Islet, where medicines were dispensed at no cost to patients. The number of patients who received medications gratuitously from these dispensaries in 1901 was a whopping 9,654.
It is almost unimaginable that, in 1901, 17,298 individuals out of a population of 49,883 received free medicines and treatment from these hospitals and dispensaries – that’s more than a third of the people who lived on the island!
The Victoria Hospital also had a Sailors’ Ward, financed by a levy on all vessels entering the port of Castries, for the reception and treatment of seamen.
In 1902, the Yaws Hospital, which had been situated on Rat Island in Choc Bay, was moved to the Malgretoute Estate on
the seashore to the south of Soufriere, where all persons suffering from the skin disease were segregated. Interestingly, “Medical officers, magistrates, ministers of religion, police or other constables” were “empowered by law to require persons suffering from Yaws to go or to be removed to this hospital.” In 1901, the number of Yaws cases treated was 82, of which 50 were discharged cured. No deaths occurred.
Relatively speaking, and taking into account the limited means available in those days, it seems that the authorities did a pretty good job of providing health services to the island’s population – 113 years ago.