Health care is provided by a system of community
health centres and hospitals. People must pay user fees for care, but
prenatal, postnatal and family planning services are free, as is all
health care for children under 17. Poorer families, the elderly and
the unemployed pay lower user fees or are treated for free. Some
dental services are provided by government clinics for a fee.
Health conditions in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines are generally adequate. Most people have healthy diets, and the water is generally safe to drink. A program of universal immunization has stopped the spread of many diseases. Life expectancy is 72 years and the infant mortality rate is currently 19 for every 1,000 live births.
The country has six public hospitals: one in Kingstown and five in rural areas of St. Vincent and Bequia. There are also three privately owned hospitals. Training in health care is offered by the government-operated School of Nursing. Kingstown Medical College is affiliated with St. George's University in Grenada, an international school of medicine.
Community care is provided by 38 outpatient clinics
located throughout the country. Each clinic serves about 3,000 people and
is easily accessible. Health centres are well staffed and provide a wide
range of services, including midwifery, family planning, immunization and
emergency care. In rural areas, people sometimes use traditional folk
remedies, derived from locally grown roots and herbs, to treat a variety
St. Vincent has a mental health centre and a home for the elderly. The government is currently promoting community elder care so that seniors do not have to live in institutions.
In 1974, concern about the country's high fertility rate,
especially among teenage girls, led the government to initiate a national family
planning program. Delivered through the community health centres and schools,
the program provides education in family planning, reproductive health and
sexually transmitted diseases. As a result, the country has seen a decline
in birth rates in all age groups.
Common health problems include hypertension, diabetes, gastrointestinal problems and diseases such as malaria and dengue. HIV infection is a cause for concern, given the prevalence of sexual activity among youth. Public education programs have been established to increase awareness of the dangers of HIV infection.