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An Expat Guide To Healthcare In Trinidad & Tobago

Teeming with natural beauty, the birthplace of the steel pan, the limbo dance and several unique music styles is located just off the northern edge of the South American mainland. Calm, peaceful and serene are some of the first words that will come to mind when you visit the twin island country of Trinidad and Tobago.This popular tourist destination is barely 11 kilometers (6.8 miles) away from the coast of northeastern Venezuela and about 130 kilometers (81 miles) south of Grenada. Bordering the Caribbean to its north, it shares its locale with places like Barbados and Guyana, in addition to Grenada and Venezuela.

Moving to Trinidad and Tobago gives you the opportunity to live in the idyllic Caribbean, with its tropical climate, colorful coral reefs, pristine beaches, lush rainforests, stunning landscapes and a plethora of outdoor activities. Moreover, these scenic islands offer visitors and residents all the essential modern day amenities, making them a perfect spot for people from across the globe. You will therefore find sizable expat populations in the capital, Port of Spain, as well as the cities of San Fernando and Scarborough, with smaller groups or individuals in the remote areas. While many foreign residents have their own businesses or are employed in the financial and electronics industries, many people choose to spend their retirement years in this destination.

Before thinking about moving to Trinidad and Tobago it is important that you learn as much as you can about the different aspects of the lifestyle on these islands, especially healthcare. Below is a brief guide to the overall health system and the facilities that are extended to expats.

Healthcare in Trinidad and Tobago

The Ministry of Health is the national authority that looks after the regulation of the entire health system in Trinidad and Tobago. This entity plays an important role in looking after the overall health of the population. It also ensures that all the institutions and organizations offering medical goods and services conform to the country’s safety standards.

The responsibility for the provision of healthcare services on the islands was transferred from the Ministry of Health to the Regional Health Authorities (RHA) when the Regional Health Authorities Act No. 5 was passed in 1994. All of the RHAs are autonomous bodies, which own and operate a variety of health facilities in their own regions. In the current scenario, there are 5 RHAs providing public healthcare services to Trinidad and Tobago. These are:

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• The North West Regional Health Authority or the NWRHA
• The North Central Regional Health Authority or the NCRHA
• The Eastern Regional Health Authority or the ERHA
• The South West Regional Health Authority or the SWRHA
• The Tobago Regional Health Authority or the TRHA

The Ministry does not manage any of the facilities directly but it plays an essential role in ensuring that they are run in a proper way. It does so by setting policies, targets and goals for the regions after assessing their specific health requirements. The Ministry also allots any resources that are needed to the RHA, which helps to finance their day to day operations.

The islands work under a two-tier system, since they have a public sector as well as a private sector. Like in any other nation, the quality of private healthcare is far superior but it also comes at a much higher cost and is only available to those who can afford it.

Even the authorities admit that the quality of the medical services and facilities in Trinidad and Tobago has to improve a great deal, before it can be on par with North America and Western Europe. The public healthcare system has been experiencing a huge shortage of medical supplies and professionals. This means that the waiting lines are long and patients are often advised to seek help from private doctors in case of any major complications.

The Ministry of Health is making an effort to alleviate some of these challenges. They are trying to adopt a strategic and comprehensive approach towards the development of human resources in the public health sector. This move involves attracting their citizens living overseas back home. At the same time, it is also placing a lot of emphasis on the wellbeing and healthy lifestyle of the residents.

Press reports released in the last few years have indicated an impetus among officials to switch to a National Health System. In a setup like this, the costs will be largely funded by the tax revenues of the working population. If this move is implemented, foreign nationals will be required to make payments for any services they use, at the point of delivery. However, this is just speculation and there is no confirmation about the NHS being made a reality any time soon.

Public Healthcare

In Trinidad and Tobago, public health services are rendered free of charge at the point of delivery for all residents, regardless of their nationality. This includes the treatment for ongoing ailments such as arthritis, asthma, depression, diabetes, epilepsy, glaucoma and hypertension. Heart problems and conditions of the thyroid are also generally covered.

However, if you are suffering from a chronic health problem that requires you to seek continued medical attention, you should check with the Ministry to see if your condition is covered. At times, expats are expected to pay for their own medication.

You are not required to set up an appointment beforehand as the services are provided on a walk-in basis (with the exception of one hospital, Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex). Some of the major medical facilities that fall under the public healthcare sector include:

• Port of Spain General Hospital
• San Fernando General Hospital
• San Fernando Teaching Hospital
• Sangre Grande Hospital
• Point Fortin Hospital
• Mount Hope General Hospital
• Scarborough General Hospital

These hospitals receive their aid from the District Health Facilities (DHF) located all across the country.

Private Healthcare

The private healthcare sector in Trinidad and Tobago is a lot smaller than the public sector, even though its quality is much better. In spite of its size, the network has a variety of medical experts, including general practitioners, physicians, surgeons, dentists, pharmacists, optometrists, and other specialists. All the private hospitals that operate in the country are licensed.

Predictably, private healthcare across the island is quite expensive, which is why it is mainly the expats who rely on this sector for their medical requirements. Most of them get private health insurance for themselves as well as their families, to offset a major part of the medical costs.

There are numerous private health insurance providers, offering customized policies at competitive rates. You can either sign up with a local firm, or an international company that has its presence on the islands. Two of the major players in this industry are:

Guardian Life of the Caribbean, a Guardian Holdings Group subsidiary
Sagicor Life, a part of the Sagicor Financial Corporation

These two providers cover around 90% of all the private medical expenses in Trinidad and Tobago. However, medical insurance is still regarded as a luxury, only affordable by wealthy and well-paid expats.

Many foreigners assume that their healthcare cover from their provider back home will be accepted in Trinidad and Tobago. However, that is often not the case. It is therefore best to check with the insurance company before visiting a private medical facility.

Emergency Services

Anyone can access ambulance services on the islands by dialing 811. The patient will be transported to the Accident and Emergency Department of the nearest national health facility for immediate medical attention. Unfortunately, not all hospitals have a casualty ward. Those that do are:

• District Health Facilities
• Paediatric Department of the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex
• Point Fortin Area Hospital
• Port of Spain and San Fernando General Hospitals
• Sangre Grande and Scarborough Regional Hospitals

The government advises people to use this facility only in case of a life-threatening incident, which could include:

• Allergic reactions
• Asthmatic attacks
• Breathlessness
• Burns
• Excessive vomiting
• Falls or blows to the head of any kind
• Gunshot wounds
• High fever in babies and toddlers
• Ingestion of a toxic substance
• Knife wounds
• Overdose of pills
• Profuse bleeding
• Severe pain in the chest or abdominal area
• Vehicle accidents

The list given above is not an exhaustive one and you can choose to call for emergency help in other situations too.

Access to Medical Centers

The number of hospital beds in the country is 2.7 per 1000 people, which is a lot higher than most of the other places in the Caribbean and Latin American regions.

San Fernando’s Administrative Complex has been converted into a 216-bed teaching facility, which is connected by a skywalk to the San Fernando General Hospital.

In Couva, the Children’s Hospital and Multi-Training Facility has another 230 beds, 80 of which are only for children. The center also conducts training for more than 300 students from the University of West Indies’ School of Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy.

The National Oncology Center was commissioned a short while ago and new facilities are being built at Penal, Point Fortin, Sangre Grande and Arima. The government is in the process of upgrading the hospitals at 6 different locations and has converted some of the others into 24/7 centers.

Most of the locals rely on the District Health Facilities (DHF) for their medical needs. These facilities, located in Arima, Chaguanas, Couva, Mayaro and Princes Town, are open 24 hours a day and offer accident and emergency services, along with other types of general practices, such as:

• Ante-natal and post-natal services
• Child health services
• Dental services for children and adults (only at some facilities)
• Family planning services
• Health promotion fitness programs
• Pharmacy services
• Radiology (X-ray and ultrasound) services
• Specialist services for chronic and or lifestyle diseases

These health centers are generally operational from 8:00AM to 4:00PM but some of them are open till 6:00PM. The main focus is the prevention and cure of common diseases as well as the treatment of injuries.

Important Contact Numbers

As soon as you move to the islands, it is best to familiarize yourself with the medical centers and district health facilities close to you. Start with making a note of these numbers for the District Health Facilities:

• Arima: +1 868 667 4715
• Mayaro: +1 868 630 1258
• Chaguanas: +1 868 665 8598
• Couva: +1 868 636 4033
• Princes Town: +1 868 667 4715

Alternatively, you could also directly get in touch with the County Medical Offices if required. Below are their contact numbers.

• St. George West: +1 868 624 3439
• St. George Central: +1 868 675 5272/ 81
• St. George East: +1 868 667 3693
• Caroni: +1 868 636 3690/ 91
• St. Andrew/ St. David: +1 868 668 2053/ 55
• Mayaro/ Nariva: +1 868 222 5005
• Victoria: +1 868 652 2016/ 653 0515
• St. Patrick: +1 868 649 1227
• Tobago: +1 868 639 3751

Like any other place, the healthcare system of Trinidad and Tobago faces its fair share of challenges. The government is making constant reforms that will improve the overall quality of the public healthcare services. Despite its small size, the private sector is fairly well developed and is capable of meeting the requirements of most expats in the country.

See also
Government healthcare site

Have you lived in Trinidad & Tobago? Share your experiences in the comments below, or answer the questions here to be featured in an interview.

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