Belize PM, PAHO discuss ‘priority health issues’

Belize PM, PAHO discuss ‘priority health issues’
Carissa Etienne, regional-director for the WHO Pan American Health Organization.
Associated Press / Keystone / Martial Trezzini

The Washington, D.C.-based Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) says its director, Dr. Carissa Etienne, and Belize Prime Minister Dean Barrow have been discussing “a variety of priority health issues” for Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member-state.

PAHO said on Monday that both parties also discussed PAHO’s technical cooperation during an official meeting in Belize’s capital, Belize City.

“The importance of achieving universal health coverage without leaving anyone behind, as stated by the 2030 United Nations Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted in 2015 by countries of the world, including Belize, was also discussed,” said PAHO in a statement.

Dr. Etienne, who is also Regional Director for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO), said “the goal of our member states is for all people to have access and health coverage when and where they need it.

“This is what we are working towards,” she said. “PAHO will continue to support Belize on the path towards universal health.

“Improving health and, particularly, addressing the causes of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), which are the leading cause of death globally, requires multisectoral work,” added Etienne, stressing that many of the risk factors fall outside the health sector, “so the involvement of other areas of government and society is essential.”

Dr. Etienne, according to PAHO, also highlighted cost-effective interventions to tackle tobacco use, alcohol abuse, physical inactivity and unhealthy diet, including tobacco regulation, taxes on sugary drinks and front-of-package labeling on food products to warn the population about high levels of salt, sugar and fats.

Barrow acknowledged the “dedicated” work of PAHO, which “we are grateful for and value very much,” according to PAHO.

He also underscored that he is motivated by Dr. Etienne “to continue moving forward,” PAHO said.

Other issues addressed during the meeting include the importance of achieving high vaccination coverage against measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases in all municipalities of the country; strengthening education and vector control actions to prevent cases of dengue, zika and chikungunya; and improving the diagnosis and clinical management of these diseases by health personnel.

PAHO said that Etienne was accompanied on his visit to Belize by the PAHO Chief of Staff, Dr. Merle Lewis, and the PAHO Representative in Belize, Dr. Noreen Jack.

Dr. Etienne also made a courtesy visit to the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Belize, Wilfred Elrington.

During this meeting, PAHO said they discussed, amongst other things, a project that seeks to transform hospitals in Belize in order to make them more resistant to natural disasters.

This initiative, known as the Smart Health Facilities initiative, is supported by PAHO and funded by the United Kingdom and the European Union.

Dr. Etienne and the managers of PAHO’s departments of Health Systems and Services; Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health; and Emergencies also visited the Belize city of Belmopan, where they held a working meeting with technical teams from the Ministry of Health, including the Minister of State in National Health Insurance and Primary Health Care, Angel Campos, and the chief executive officer of the Ministry of Health, Ramón Figueroa.