By Mellica McPherson
The British Virgin Islands agreed to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) strategy that will among other things assist the Territory in strengthening integrated vector management to control Zika, Chikungunya and other arboviruses.
During a two-day meeting that concluded on 29 July in Washington, D.C, BVI and other UK Overseas Territories signed the “Strategic Note” that sets out three lines of health action that will be supported by PAHO and WHO over the next six years.
PAHO Director, Carissa F. Etienne, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Social Development, Petrona Davies, and top health authorities from Anguilla, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, and Turks and Caicos agreed to the Strategic Note.
The document outlines a new cooperation strategy that seeks to create synergies among the territories to address social and environmental conditions that impact health. The aim is to mobilize resources, and to facilitate the development of a unified position and a stronger voice on health matters in the Caribbean.
“We believe this strategy will facilitate pooling and mobilization of joint resources, joint action, and increased efficiencies,” said PAHO Director Etienne, who also noted that the agreement marked the first time the territories have set a multi-country agenda for PAHO/WHO technical cooperation in health.
Under the agreement three lines of health action will be supported with PAHO/WHO technical cooperation over the next six years. These areas include: “Promoting physical and mental health throughout the life course; building safe and resilient environments to facilitate effective responses to health emergencies and hazards, and strengthening the governance, organization, and management of health systems to achieve access to health and universal health coverage.”
The goal of achieving universal health was adopted by all PAHO Member States in 2014 as part of the regional Strategy for Universal Access to Health and Universal Health Coverage. Now, under the new strategy, PAHO/WHO will assist health authorities in tackling common health challenges by implementing comprehensive strategies.
These strategies include expanding equitable access to comprehensive, quality, people- and community-centered health services; strengthening stewardship and governance for universal health in the context of health sector reform; as well as integrating mental health services into primary health care, while strengthening those services at the secondary and tertiary levels.
In all six territories, non-communicable diseases – especially cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer, are the leading causes of death; and the prevalence of these diseases is expected to rise given the growing rates of obesity, and the territories’ aging populations.
Therefore, the Strategic Note makes provision for addressing non-communicable disease risk factors, especially poor diet and tobacco use, through regulatory frameworks that will help make the healthy choice easier to make.
The agreement will also provide for increased and improved health systems financing, and advance toward the elimination of direct payments that are a barrier to access at the point of service.
The promotion of safe and resilient health facilities while reducing their carbon footprint using the PAHO/WHO “SMART hospitals” approach is also proposed. As well the strengthening of capacity to prepare for and respond to “all-hazards” emergencies.
Additionally, the Strategic Note calls for the development and implementation of cross-territory health information systems.
Dr. Merle Lewis, PAHO/WHO’s Chief of Staff re-confirmed PAHO’s continued commitment to working alongside the UKOTs to implement the strategy. “This is critical since it will not only address the public health needs of the UKOTs but also contribute to improved reporting on the goals and targets of the PAHO Strategic Plan as well as the Sustainable Development Goals,” Lewis said.
UKOT participants in the meeting included Anguilla’s Minister of Health and Social Development, Evans McNeil Rogers; Bermuda’s Minister of Health, Seniors and Environment, Jeanne Atherden; Councillor Roy McTaggart of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development and Chief Officer Jennifer Ahearn of the Cayman Islands; Montserrat’s Deputy Premier and Minister of Education, Health and Social Services, Delmaude Ryan; Turks and Caicos’s Premier and Minister of Health, Agriculture and Human Services, Rufus Ewing; and Jenny Harries, Director of Public Health England’s South of England Regional Office. Also participating were technical and managerial staff from PAHO/WHO’s headquarters and country offices in the Caribbean.
By Mellica McPherson