A sin tax which will see tariffs being imposed on various products such as alcohol and tobacco which are considered to be harmful and unhealthy to society is being suggested by Social Commentator and Activist Natalio “Sowande Uhuru” Wheatley in lieu of mandatory NHI.
“There is yet another alternative – something they refer to as a sin tax – instead of taxing everybody across the board,” Wheatley announced during the 15 September Speak Out BVI programme as he announced why the tax should be considered.
Sin Taxes are levied in various countries on items such as alcohol, tobacco, candies, drugs, soft drinks, fast foods, coffee, and gambling which are deemed to form part of unhealthy lifestyle behaviours.
Here in the BVI, Wheatley suggested that Government look at the sin tax option as a revenue mechanism to fund healthcare needs as opposed to making NHI mandatory. The activist said: “If you recognize that you have certain health challenges – non-communicable diseases that you, yourself term as lifestyle diseases, instead of taxing everybody you could put a tax on some of the things that you have scientifically proven contributes to the health challenges that you’re facing.”
The activist argued that it is not right that persons who are striving to keep healthy should pay a price for those living recklessly, and are a burden on the healthcare system: “You might have someone who is unemployed and living in a very reckless fashion causing a burden on the healthcare system. While I am trying to do things in the correct way — I have to pay for that person and it is not a good incentive,” he declared.
Wheatley noted that the Territory has a growing dialysis need and that the sin tax from alcohol can be used to pay the expense for that service: “Let us just take alcohol for instance, if you perceive alcohol as playing a major role in contributing to certain non-communicable lifestyle diseases…” “You may have somebody on dialysis now, and dialysis is very expensive; and you are saying alcohol contributed to that. As opposed to taxing everybody why don’t you through a little tax on alcohol raise some money to pay for the care of those persons on dialysis and otherwise,” he added.
The heavy demand for dialysis treatment was bemoaned in the 2013/2014 budget of the BVI Health Services Authority (BVIHSA) that was laid in a recent sitting of the House of Assembly. The document detailed concerns for not only the heavy use of the dialysis machines, but the growing number of patients requiring such services.
While the increasing number of dialysis patients continues to be lamented by the Minister for Health and Social Development, Hon. Ronnie Skelton the gravity of the situation was fully apparent in the document which announced that the situation is costing the Authority, causing machine overuse which opens the door to possible malfunctioning which will be problematic if encountered, and overall worry as the list of future dialysis dependent patients lengthens.
The document lamented that nurses have been working overtime in the Hemodialysis Unit which in the last year ended up costing the BVIHSA $40,092.99 in staff overtime. As a result, it was suggested that nursing overtime hours be eliminated with the introduction of two haemodialysis technicians to handle the non-nursing functions currently undertaken by Registered Nurses.
It was further suggested that improvements be made to the quality of patient care by introducing nutritional guidance and social service interventions thereby reducing the need for inpatient hospitalization. The budget also made mention of the replacement of four dialysis machines to enhance functioning and delete downtime due to faulty equipment.
In outlining the present situation of the Hemodialysis Unit the document highlighted that operations are carried out six days per week in order to meet the need of 47 patients.
“There are eight Registered Nurses in the department and a Nurse Manager. The nurses currently work 8-hour shifts with a total of 160 hours at the end of four weeks. Patient appointments commence at 7:30 a.m with the latest appointment time commencing at 2:30 and ending at 6:30p.m. The final 30 minutes to one hour of the shift is spent cleaning the machines and preparing the unit for the following day,” the document stated.