SEATTLE — Sint Maarten is a 37-square mile island with two different cultures — Dutch and French — which have learned to co-exist to create a unique identity. Up until 2010, the Netherlands and France ruled Sint Maarten and although this island is still part of the Dutch kingdom, it is now independent.
Every year, Sint Maarten has a World Cancer Day. According to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), among females, breast cancer is the main cause of death followed by cervical cancer. Breast cancer awareness in Sint Maarten is always on the minds of its residents in terms of how breast cancer treatment occurs. However, there is a significant lack of awareness about the need for preventative breast cancer screenings.
Health Care System
Sint Maarten’s health care system remains privately managed with the responsibility for securing quality health care and developing legislation, guidelines and policy falling under the Ministry of Public Health, Social Development and Labor. There are primary and secondary health services delivered by a mix of private and nonprofit providers. Cancer prevention is part of the primary care services and complex care services often accessed outside of Sint Maarten through guaranteed arrangements between the insurer, social and health insurance and facilities in Aruba, Colombia, Cuba, Curacao, the Dominican Republic, the U.S. and Venezuela.
Once diagnosed with breast cancer, chemotherapy may be available on Sint Maarten but often patients have to travel to another island, like Curacao, or travel to the Netherlands, to receive radiation therapy. General Director Kees Klarenbeek of the Sint Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) would like to see a complete health care package going forward where the patient comes first instead of being caught in the middle of different parties such as their General Practitioner, the hospital and the insurance companies. Exploring agreements with different hospitals as to where the best care made available is the goal, therefore, with the primary care specialist conferring with the specialist at the other hospital.
Although a number of positive changes have transpired within the health care system over the past few years, such as reconstructive surgery, follow-up care, as well as offering support groups for the patient and their family still need to be implemented.
On the island, 28 medical facilities offer free preventative breast cancer checks, but often, out of fear, the residents of the island do not take advantage of this service. Many women are afraid of the exam results and dislike the pain associated with the screening, but 50 percent eventually come for a scan. Unfortunately, many women on the island do not realize that late diagnosis of breast cancer can result in a major impact on their family and environmental life.
In 2018, the Fundashon Prevenshon (FP), a medical facility based in Curacao, acquired a new mammography machine that will enable more women to have screenings in the coming years. In addition, FP is collaborating with two Rotary clubs in Curacao to create an informational campaign to encourage women between the ages of 45-75 years of age to get a mammogram. Since many residents of Sint Maarten may have to travel for their breast cancer services, the acquisition of this new machinery by FP will welcome women who have made the decision to take charge of their health.
Professionally trained medical imaging, radiation and screening technicians are also available to help reassure women to make their mammography experience as pleasant as possible. The team regularly receives continuing education and is always up to date on the latest techniques and developments.
The importance of breast cancer awareness in Sint Maarten is crucial. There are groups such as Positive Foundation, Pink Sunset Sail by Aqua Mania Adventures and TellEm Group, just to name a few, that lend their support to breast cancer awareness campaigns by wearing pink ribbons and organizing events to bring home their message. The positive reaction of the participants to this information, which includes posting photos online and attending events, consequently, communicate the significance of breast cancer screening to others in the community.
– Colette Sherrington