Regional Public Health Stakeholders discuss health security issues, including decline in routine immunization ahead of Twenty-Ninth COHSOD


Monday, 20 March 2023 (CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown) Regional Public Health Stakeholders met virtually on Friday, 17 March, for a preparatory meeting facilitated by the CARICOM Secretariat ahead of the Twenty-Ninth Special Meeting of the Council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD) – Health scheduled for 26 April 2023.

The meeting was an important platform for stakeholders in health to provide updates on the implementation of health projects and programmes; share experiences on health responses; identify recommendations for the improvement of policy, strategies and programmes; and endorse policy recommendations for actions undertaken under the broad-based health strategy of the Region (Caribbean Cooperation in Health – CCH).

The meeting was chaired by Dr Melissa Diaz-Musa, Director, Health and Wellness, Ministry of Health and Wellness, Belize, with the support of the Directorate of Human and Social Development, CARICOM Secretariat.  

In her opening remarks, Ms. Helen Royer, Director, Human and Social Development, CARICOM Secretariat, acknowledged the contributions of technical experts in public health, including state actors, non-state actors, such as the various non-governmental organization (NGOs), Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and our international development partners, who have supported the implementation of a coordinated multi-sectoral response for COVID-19 and the development of several public health goods.

Image: (L-R): Dr Melissa Diaz-Musa, Director, Health and Wellness, Ministry of Health and Wellness, Belize, Ms Helen Royer, Director, Human and Social Development, CARICOM Secretariat, Ms Curvelle David, Deputy Programme Manager, Health Sector Development, CARICOM Secretariat, Dr Joy St John, Executive Director, CARPHA, Dr Karen Broome, Advisor Immunization, PAHO, Prof. Donald Simeon, Director, Caribbean Centre for Health Systems Research and Development and Professor of Research and Biostatistics, The University of the West Indies, Ms Sandra Jones, Technical Advisor, HIV/STI, TB & Viral Hepatitis in the Caribbean, PAHO, and Dr Kenneth George, Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Barbados.

“Your technical expertise, leadership and management in public health have undoubtedly contributed to improved coordination, resource mobilization, policy advocacy and improved public health outcomes,” stated Ms Royer, “The Secretariat again takes this opportunity to thank the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) and Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) for working collaboratively with us and our CARICOM Member States to address the emerging health priorities and currently the efforts towards addressing the low immunization rates experienced in our routine immunization programmes”.

The Director emphasized that despite the best efforts of Public Health stakeholders and the gains achieved to date, the Region continues to experience existing and emerging public health challenges which have the potential to undermine the Region’s ability to achieve sustainable development.  She underscored that the regression in vaccine uptake would continue to affect Member States if drastic steps are not implemented immediately.  Ms. Royer also noted that the challenges with health security should not be ignored. 

“While these challenges are noted, I have no doubt that the updates and policy recommendations proposed by the various partners will result in the endorsement and implementation of innovative strategies that are guided by science, evidence and shared experiences,” stated the Director.

In a brief opening statement, Chair Dr. Diaz-Musa urged stakeholders to note, in particular, the low immunization rates experienced in routine immunization programmes region-wide.  She stressed that the trend could reverse the gains made in public health and highlighted the potential impact on the Region’s public health systems.

The meeting received a detailed technical update from CARPHA on health security issues in the Region and opportunities for funding through the Pandemic Fund, while PAHO led a discussion on the status of the Expanded Programme on Immunizations in CARICOM Member States.  PAHO also shared an update on the Elimination of Communicable and Tropical Diseases in the Caribbean, among other issues.

In addition, participants discussed matters pertaining to the Port-of-Spain Declaration on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDS), which included an update on the “Caribbean Moves Initiative” by CARPHA and a presentation on the status of Regional Mental Health Legislation with country experiences from The Bahamas and Guyana.

The outcomes of the meeting will inform the discussions for the upcoming COHSOD in Nassau, The Bahamas, and ultimately lead to decisions to improve health outcomes for the people of the Caribbean Community.

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