New hospital for GB

by: Nina Laing, News Reporter

The government is still moving ahead with plans to construct a new hospital in Freeport within the next three years, Minister for Grand Bahama Dr. Michael Darville revealed yesterday.

He made this announcement during his address at the International Stem Cell Society's STEMSO Conference 2014.

The new "state-of-the-art"  facility will rise on a 70-acre Greenfield site in Freeport and should be completed by early 2017, Darville said.

He first revealed plans for the hospital during the opening of the Grand Bahama Medical and Dental Association's Annual Medical Conference in 2012.

At that time, he noted that residents have outgrown the Rand Memorial Hospital, and, despite constant upgrades, the hospital does not meet the "necessary requirements"  to deliver quality care conducive to attracting medical tourists.

Yesterday, though, Darville noted that after assessing both primary and tertiary health care needs on the island, the government plans to develop the existing facility.

" Through a public-private partnership model, we intend to improve our present medical infrastructure and current medical services in order to efficiently cater to the medical needs of locals and medical tourists alike on the island of Grand Bahama,"  Darville said.

He said the government is committed to refining healthcare in The Bahamas as it seeks to establish the country as a destination for medical tourism.

This industry, he said, is a mammoth market within the region that yields billions of dollars yearly.

And, as a self-proclaimed advocate for stem cell research and therapy, Darville said he is confident that the introduction of this procedure in The Bahamas will push the medical tourism product.

" A leading cardiologist and founder of The Bahamas Heart Center rightfully said that with the implementation of stem cell therapy, The Bahamas would finally enter the major league of medical tourism,"  he said.

" A report on stem cell research in a national newspaper in December 2012 outlined that stem cell therapy can potentially inject more than $100 million into the Bahamian economy on an annual basis and facilitate the diversification of our national economy." 

Darville added that considering Grand Bahama's proximity to the United States, its "state-of-the-art"  infrastructure and duty-free environment, the island stands to reap major benefits from the medical procedure.

For that reason, he said, the government is aggressively pursuing the stem cell industry.

Through its Stem Cell Task Force, the government is exploring the benefits and potentially negative effects of this science, Darville added.

According to its findings, he said, the Bahamas would find itself on the "cutting edge of good science,"  should stem cell research and therapy be effectively monitored.

" This science would open doors to therapies that could treat and possibly cure many of the chronic debilitating diseases that currently affect our local population,"  Darville said.

He also suggested that the presence of a stem cell industry in The Bahamas could attract scientists and medical professionals to establish research institutions and healthcare centers in the country, thus fueling the economy.

Darville said he is satisfied that the Stem Cell Research and Therapy Bill 2013 through its Scientific Review, Ethics, and Compliance Committees will effectively regulate the industry and ensure that stem cell procedures comply with best practices and international standards.

He added that these committees would ensure that medical practitioners and research scientists are operating under proper ethical standards and that they will be held accountable should they fail to adhere to these standards.

While addressing the assembly of medical professionals and scientists yesterday, Darville expressed confidence that sessions such as the four-day STEMSO Conference will serve to improve the dialogue on stem cell research and therapy in The Bahamas.

" I am truly excited about this focus on this industry as I predict that it will be a substantial contributor to our local economy in the months and years to come,"  he said.

Dr. Conville Brown, Chief Executive Officer of the Partner Stem Cell Center and The Bahamas Heart Center, said he is thrilled with the progress the government has made in implementing stem cell research and therapy in The Bahamas.

Brown noted that he began stem cell activity two years ago, but received approval for stem cell therapy back in 2005.

" We did our first cardiac implantation of stem cells in an American tourist. So we saw that as the launch of regenerative medicine in a medical touristic environment,"  Brown said of his first stem cell case in 2012.

" Since then the government has seen fit to develop and pass legislation ... So we're very much looking forward now to the final passage of the stem cell regulations which give teeth to the act so that people know exactly how to behave, know exactly what is allowed in the Bahamas and we want to make sure that we have a well-policed jurisdiction for stem cell therapy and stem cell research because all medical care should be of the highest standards." 

Brown said the conference is a positive first step for the government in promoting The Bahamas as a destination for adult stem cell therapy on an international stage.

STEMSO Conference 2014, held at the Grand Lucayan Grand Ballroom, is held under the theme, "Bridging the Gap: Research to Pont of Care." 

The conference continues today with remarks from Minister of Health Dr. Perry Gomez.

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