GENEVA, CMC – Caribbean Community (CARICOM) health ministers have joined their American counterparts in calling for more equity and solidarity to address future pandemics.
Barbados Health and Wellness Minister, Minister Dr. Jerome Walcott, told the World Health Assembly (WHA) here that there is a need to focus on recovering losses and tackling current challenges such as non-communicable diseases.
“As we look forward to the post-COVID period in my country, we recognize that we have receded in some of the progress made towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs,” Walcott told the meeting that reviewed the topic of health in the aftermath of the COVID-19 emergency, highlighting lessons learned and considering actions for better preparedness against future health emergencies.
“This is particularly so in immunization against vaccine-preventable diseases and the management of NCDs. In addition, challenges like new and emerging infectious diseases, climate change and health, anti-microbial resistance, and building resilient health systems must be vigorously addressed.”
The Barbados Health and Wellness Minister called for “a rethink of WHO’S strategic direction within the context of universal health care that promotes the empowerment of our citizens and communities to achieve better health outcomes.”
In addition, Walcott highlighted plans to tackle current health challenges and the upcoming high-level meeting to discuss health in the context of Small Island Developing States (SIDS). “Barbados, at this time, we are especially interested in the health of our children, particularly as it relates to the prevention and control of childhood obesity and the early detection and management of persons at risk from and living with NCDs and mental health problems. “Barbados is also happy to host the high-level meeting for SIDS on NCDs and mental health.
We look forward to a vital outcome document that would enhance the health of persons in small island developing states.”
WALCOTT also took the opportunity to thank the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) for its support towards improving emergency preparedness.
“We are pleased to receive technical expertise and support in developing our national health adaptation plan. We appreciate the support being received by the Pan American Health Organization and the Caribbean Public Health Agency in our efforts for future pandemic readiness through access to the global pandemic fund,” he said.
In his contribution to the debate, Justin Viard, Permanent Representative of Haiti to the United Nations in Geneva, highlighted gains in health since the inception of WHO, along with challenges.
“Universal health coverage has been the goal all those years, and different resolutions have tried to get us closer to that goal. Significant progress has been made in improving health systems, fighting against diseases and their determinants. Nonetheless, poverty and inequality persist. COVID-19 highlighted the structural challenges facing health systems worldwide,” he said.
The Haitian representative also reflected on the lessons from COVID-19 and called for more equitable access to face future emergencies:
“The COVID-19 pandemic surprised us and revealed the limits of our global health architecture. It also reminded us that we are members of the same human family. We all live on the same planet. We share air, earth, oceans…we all admit that no one is protected or healthy unless we are all protected or healthy.”
He said countries like Haiti need universal and equitable access to vaccines, medicines, and products at reasonable prices that are safe and efficient.
“These are necessary conditions for international health security and to protect future generations. We are committed to strengthening primary health care as part of a global effort,” he told the WHA, which ends on Friday.
Canada’s Minister for Mental Health and Addictions, Carolyn Bennett, said that the lessons from COVID-19 “reaffirm the need to work with international partners to reduce barriers to health and care, but also to address the parallel pandemics of mental health, substance use, and gender-based violence.”
On the 75th anniversary of the birth of the World Health Organization (WHO), Bennett considered that “we need the organization’s leadership today more than ever,” recalling the words of the WHO’s first Director-General, Canadian psychiatrist Brock Chisholm, who said that “without mental health, there can be no real physical health.”
The Canadian Minister for Mental Health and Addictions highlighted the improvement in information collection during the pandemic, which made it possible to know the status of vaccinated, hospitalized, and deceased people in real-time.
“Now we need to build on that improved information to achieve better community health indicators and have real-time data to address the continuing inequities in access to health,” she said.
“We need to listen to science, communities, and those with lived experience,” she added. “The very difficult last few years have highlighted how important today’s lessons learned will be in enabling us to succeed in preventing, preparing for, and responding to a future crisis.” Bennett added that Canada supports efforts to update the International Health Regulations (IHR) and develop an international pandemic instrument, as it is “crucial to develop a global health community where everyone is included and participates in a meaningful way.”