A delegation of chief medical officers from across the Caribbean met in Grand Cayman this week to compare notes and devise strategies to provide improved health care.
Delegates from the Cayman Islands, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago and Turks and Caicos attended the meeting.
Speaking at the opening of the two-day conference at the Marriott hotel on West Bay Road, the Cayman Islands’ health minister Mark Scotland said: “For while we all hail from different countries with our own unique identities, many of the health challenges we face are very similar: maternal and child health, aging populations, control of non-communicable diseases and injuries and AIDS prevention and control – to mention a few.
“This meeting is about identifying priority health areas and promoting technical cooperation among us so that we can all optimise our resources.”
Although the Cayman Islands is not a full CARICOM member, it does support, participate in and benefit from regional health initiatives, Mr. Scotland said, adding that Cayman was honoured to “finally host this important regional health event”.
The aim of the conference is to make health care in the Caribbean exponentially better, the health minister said.
He described this 20th meeting of the region’s chief medical officers as a timely one, being held a few weeks before June’s United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“In many instances, legislators and policy makers will be looking to you, their chief medical officers, to make the case for enshrining public health in global sustainable development goals. As you join here today to discuss some of the region’s more pressing health issues, you are sure to gain invaluable knowledge and new insights which you can take back to your legislators and policy makers so that these issues can be addressed pro-actively on a regional and global scale,” Cayman’s health minister told the visiting delegates from countries and territories throughout the Caribbean.
He commended their efforts at past meetings, including at the United Nations High-Level Meeting on Non–Communicable Diseases last year and at 2009’s Summit of the Americas, during which the 2007 Port-of-Spain Declaration on Non-Communicable Diseases was adopted as a model declaration.
“Both these fully demonstrates the power of collective action,” Mr. Scotland said.
He described the regional health statistics on non-communicable diseases as a potential health crisis that needed to be averted.
“In this regard, the Cayman Islands is very thankful to the Pan American Health Organisation for assisting us in developing our National Health Policy and our Strategic Health Plan by providing us with technical assistance in the form of a consultant to facilitate the process. We have also launched a primary health care programme called CayHealth. It is envisaged that this programme will strengthened primary health care, provide better outcomes and save resources,” Mr. Scotland said.
He added: “At present, it also allows us to track [non-communicable diseases] in a target population – giving us vital health statistics for future planning. My ministry has also allocated funds for a non-communicable disease health risk factor survey which we will embark on next month. Once again, we received technical assistance from PAHO in training and planning for this exercise.”
Mr. Scotland said that while the Caribbean faces many challenges, this was also an exciting time for those who work in public health in the region as there is restructuring and a new alignment of the regional health agencies with the formation of the Caribbean Public Health Agency, or CARPHA, under way.
CARPHA aims to strengthen policy coordination and provide strategic direction for disease prevention and health promotion.
“It is imperative that we do not relinquish the health gains of the past decades, especially in the fields of immunisation and HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention. In addition, we have to keep our eye on the many unfinished agendas such as securing primary health care for citizens and addressing non-communicable diseases.
“This is a large task, but I believe it lies in dedicated and capable hands and I wish you all a most productive gathering,” Mr. Scotland said.
Opening statements were also made by the acting chief medical officer of the Cayman Islands Health Services Authority Dr. Delroy Jefferson and the programme manager for health sector development of the CARICOM Secretariat, Dr. Rudolph Cummings.
Dr. Cummings said one of the issues that would be discussed at the meeting was health tourism, which he said was being taken “very seriously” by some governments in the region.
The meeting of the chief medical officers came during the same week as a major health research conference. The three-day Caribbean Health and Research Council/Caribbean Public Health Agency Annual Research Conference, the largest health research conference in the English speaking Caribbean, begins on Thursday, 19 April in Grand Cayman.