After 33 years, Dr. Kumar ends his shift

We bid a respectful adieu to the Cayman Islands’ “top doc” Kiran Kumar, who has announced his retirement following 33 years of service as Cayman’s first, and to date only, medical officer of health.

Originally from a small village in India, Dr. Kumar arrived in Cayman in 1982 via Jamaica, where he had worked as a lecturer for the University of the West Indies. As he readily notes, he was welcomed here by legendary local nurse Josie Solomon, whom he praises for building a strong foundation for public health in Cayman.

Since that time, Dr. Kumar’s long tenure as head of public health has encompassed Cayman’s transition into the “modern age” of medicine, a progressive development in which his role has been instrumental. Under Dr. Kumar’s guidance, the government has established public health centers in every district, a Health Practice Law, a National Drug and Alcohol Treatment program, a national strategic plan for health, tobacco legislation and Cayman’s first National AIDS Program in 1989, among other initiatives. He has also dedicated his time to promoting awareness and prevention of cardiovascular disease, with Cayman’s approach being formally lauded by the World Health Organization in 1992.

In addition to his “behind-the-scenes” work, Dr. Kumar has often found himself on the business end of journalists’ microphones, fielding questions about the “diseases du jour” threatening the health (or peace of mind) of Cayman’s population. A cursory search of news archives reveals Dr. Kumar answering questions and issuing cautions — usually punctuating those comments with reassurances and advice “not to panic” — about conditions as diverse as HIV, SARS, “Norwalk virus” (i.e. stomach flu or viral gastroenteritis), avian influenza, malaria, dengue, polio, measles, chikungunya and Ebola.

(One of our favorite Dr. Kumar moments has to be from October of last year, when in the midst of the Ebola panic that had gripped, and seemingly paralyzed, the higher-thinking faculties of many leaders across the world, including in Cayman, Dr. Kumar calmly offered the sagest perspective we have heard on the absolute reality of a massive global Ebola outbreak, and more broadly the limits of humanity’s power over nature: “If this becomes a pandemic, and there are thousands of cases that are occurring, well, I think God will take care of it.”)

When Dr. Kumar first stepped foot on Cayman’s shores, the country’s population had just broached 17,000 people (for perspective, the district of George Town today has more than 30,000 residents), and accordingly the public health system was a mere skeleton of what it has since developed into. Since Dr. Kumar took the public health helm, Grand Cayman’s private healthcare facility, the Chrissie Tomlinson Memorial Hospital, opened in the year 2000, and just last year Cayman’s healthcare became an international phenomenon with the establishment of Health City Cayman Islands in East End. Those two entities — as well as the litany of independent private sector health providers — complement, supplement and compete with Cayman’s public health system — to the ultimate benefit, and well-being, of Cayman’s healthcare consumers, that is, all of us.

Through it all, Dr. Kumar has provided a steady hand and the occasional cold dose of practicality. As he departs from his post, we wish him great joy, prosperity and, especially, good health.