Caribbean health ministers examine challenges

Caribbean health ministers have joined health authorities of the Americas in discussing the creation of resilient health systems, while examining health challenges and achievements.

In addressing the plenary of the 68th World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, the health ministers particularly noted the challenges faced by the introduction of the chikungunya virus, as well as achievements such as the elimination of rubella in the hemisphere.

According to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Haitian delegate addressed the need to strengthen health systems in order for them to remain functional in the face of emergencies, noting that they must have coherent and integrated management from the technical and financial standpoint.

He said that the French-speaking Caribbean country is implementing reforms to provide better access to health services in remote areas, which are already showing improvements in maternal and child health.

The Haitian delegate also said that new infrastructure is under construction, although there are still areas that lack health centers, according to PAHO.

The delegate also pointed out that the management of the cholera epidemic in Haiti highlighted the need for a coordinated response, noting that the country has an action plan to combat this disease.

He added that it is also necessary to work on the resiliency of the community so that it can face and overcome the challenges that arise in this context.

Jamaican Health Minister Fenton Ferguson referred to the challenges facing various health systems, including the ability to retain specialized human resources to work in the country.

In this regard, the goal is to strengthen training and other measures within the framework of health system reform in order to make progress toward universal health coverage and universal access, according to PAHO.

Ferguson said that Jamaica and other low- and middle-income countries are struggling to obtain affordable vaccines, urging other countries to continue to work toward this goal.

The minister also referred to the strengths and challenges in the health system identified in the evaluation conducted in preparation for the potential introduction of Ebola into the country.

According to PAHO, he noted that globalization, climate change, and the arrival of previously unknown diseases to the hemisphere are problematic, citing the impact of the chikungunya virus on the region.

Barbados’ health minister, John Boyce, called on the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Member States to acknowledge the burden that non-communicable diseases place on health systems, and to consider them a priority when evaluating the resiliency of these systems.

He asserted that health systems should not be thought of solely as a response to natural disasters or the emergence of infectious diseases, when non-communicable diseases account for 80 percent of hospitalizations and 50 percent of health costs.

Boyce asked WHO to introduce measures to facilitate cooperation with regional agencies, such as PAHO, to help establish resilient health systems for emergencies as well.

He emphasized that these systems require “effective inter-sectoral coordination mechanisms to maintain the physical, social and economic infrastructures of the systems.

Minister of Health of St. Kitts and Nevis Wendy Phipps said the sustained provision of resources and technical assistance for small island nations is a “key element in the construction of solid and resilient health systems.

“We seek partnerships in health and development based on respect for human rights, and mutual benefits, as we cooperate on all issues related to human and environmental health,” she said.

Phipps acknowledged organizations, such as PAHO, for their support in all areas, adding that a resilient system needs adequate, predictable and continuous funding in order to maintain competent health workers, as well as drug supplies, equipment and technology, and good health care facilities.

The delegate from Trinidad and Tobago said that resiliency in the community must also be a priority for the health sector, according to PAHO.

He stated that the twin-island republic has worked to improve disaster preparedness not only at the government level but also at the grassroots level, allocating resources to programs that educate and empower citizens to adopt behaviors that preserve the well-being of their families.

The delegate added that this entails a number of activities, ranging from the formation of community disaster response teams to programs at schools.

It also has a component linked to health care services and the training of health workers, the delegate said.