This paper proposes that health; like education, efficient political and cultural systems; is an essential component of a nation’s social and economic development. One benefit of efficient health systems is the creation and maintenance of a productive work force. People of working age should be healthy and able to contribute to their nation’s Gross Domestic Product from the time they become employed to their retirement. It is hoped that at retirement, they would have saved enough to take care of themselves in old age. Nations of the South are considered to be the less developed nations in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and South East Asia.
Development is a process that is complex; that is, it comprises several major facets. Among them are social, economic or socioeconomic, cultural, political and technological advancements. It implies much more than growth in Gross National Product per capita, an indicator of economic growth or decline. In this paper, development implies improvements in a country’s ability to become more self-reliant in health, health care and health technology and in the production of expertly trained and skilled health professionals. In general, development suggests that countries have escaped from dependency and underdevelopment. In other words, they can produce most of what they need and use. Their industrial systems are so efficient that they export surplus at competitive prices.
Small island developing nations must do more to improve the quality of life of their populations. Quality of life is measured by the attainment and sustenance of good health. Good health is defined as a state of freedom from communicable and chronic non-communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS and diabetes respectively. Self-reliant health systems and good health can be attained through citizen education, investment in health technology and medical innovation, and investment in health professionals.
Citizen education requires significant shifts in cultural attitudes to health and wellness. It requires stringent and successful public- private sector partnerships to change citizens’ health beliefs and perceptions. Effective health education should develop innovative means to stimulate a culture of evidence based practices in personal health care. Citizens must take responsibility for their primary health care and must use observations of their health challenges to identify potential solutions. In Trinidad, one example is that people should become aware, autonomously, that proper disposal of hazardous household and industrial wastes will reduce or prevent the onset of aliments of the airways and lungs such as asthma and emphysema.
A nation should become adept in producing health technology to meet its health care needs. Medical research should go so far as to identify and treat indigenous diseases and health challenges. This will be accomplished if appropriate medical technologies are developed and utilized locally. Nations states like Trinidad and Tobago will attain greater development through the provision of well-funded programs in the production of world leading conventional and alternative medicines using locally developed technology. This can lead to the development of medical tourism that will earn needed foreign exchange. The point is that in Trinidad and Tobago much more innovation is necessary to become health sufficient.
It is palpable for small nations to develop their health professionals by providing diverse medical training facilities. Teaching hospitals should be able to deliver advanced and specialist programs in all health related fields. This will reduce brain drain by providing opportunity for health professionals to acquire advanced training in their home country. As a result migration to more developed countries to become specialist surgeons and physicians will become the exception, not the norm.
It is critical for small island nation states to prioritize health care. They must consider the opportunity cost of forgoing the creation of a healthy society and an advanced indigenous health care industry. Leaders of less developed countries must adopt holistic health policies to develop efficient and effective health systems that can match and surpass systems in more developed nations such as the United Kingdom and the United States.