Overall, discussions at the Meeting were framed by the need to improve primary health care, to focus on the alarming increase of non-communicable diseases across OECS Member States, and the impact of climate change and its debilitating effects on health systems brought about by the resurgence of diseases.
During his remarks at the Opening Ceremony held on October 9, 2023, OECS Director General Dr. Didacus Jules highlighted some of the key priorities for the Council of Ministers: Health over the next year. These included:
The need to focus on a more resolute fight against non communicable diseases
Seeking to strengthen our preparation for disasters of all kinds and their deleterious effects on human health
Greater collaboration with key development partners and
Sharing of best practices and seeking to design stronger exchanges of capacity and experience across the OECS.
According to Dr. Jules, these priorities will build on the success and proactiveness of the OECS Ministers of Health and the OECS Health Unit in addressing past pandemics and health emergencies. He also stressed on the importance of collaboration with strategic partners in addressing mutually beneficial objectives. Dr. Jules stated,
‘’Our experience over the eventful past five years has punctuated the importance of serious partnerships and helped us to clarify the guiding principles around these partnerships. An elemental principle is the importance of co-creation of initiatives that fulfil the mandate of all parties in ways that add value to each participant.’’
In his welcoming remarks, at the Opening Ceremony, the incoming Chair of the OECS Council of Ministers: Health, Hon. Vincent Wheatley, outlined his expectations for the Meeting to engage in
‘’Fruitful discussions surrounding how we can optimise our resources and best practices, through insightful presentations that spark new ideas, and collaborative efforts, that lead to innovative solutions for the challenges we collectively face.‘’
In the main, the meeting focused on the following:
a. Update from the OECS Health Unit
The OECS Health Unit presented on the implementation of its programme as it seeks to pursue the region’s commitments which were adopted by Member countries and the Commission, in order to foster regional solidarity in health, human capacity and access to resources. The 9th OECS Council of Ministers of Health (the Council) highlighted the need to reduce the duplication of efforts across the region, and recommended the strategic positioning of representatives from key health agencies such as CARPHA, to provide ongoing support to Member States. The Council committed to ensuring the implementation of existing tools that are useful in the education and prevention of Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) including HIV.
b. Current challenges and gaps around primary health care and prevention of NCDs
During a roundtable on the current challenges and gaps around “Primary Healthcare and the Prevention of NCDs’, the Council recognised the need to prioritise interventions related to threats to primary healthcare with support from NGOs and other stakeholders. The need for further discussions on healthcare financing and expert support in the area of budget planning was also highlighted. Recognising this, the Council supported the action to undertake an in-depth Primary Care Needs Assessment to review the challenges and gaps related to health care financing, organisation of care, chronic diseases, mental health, medicines and technologies, community engagement, political support and elderly care.
c. Inclusion and Engagement of Youth
A key part of the meeting was the engagement of youth in critical health related policy dialogue. The Council invited Youth Representative Ms. Bria Smith to join the discussions, and she spoke eloquently on health priorities relevant to youth, with a focus on mental health and the taboo surrounding discussions on that condition. The Council noted and supported the call for greater inclusion and engagement of youth in initiatives and forums like the Council of Ministers. The Council agreed to mainstream Mental Health Awareness/Literacy to Youth from an early age and agreed to support them in identifying signs and symptoms of that health condition. The Council also acknowledged the need to bridge the generational gap around discussions on mental health challenges.
d. Presentations by PAHO, CARPHA and CAOH
The Council received a presentation from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) on the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), cervical cancer and cardiovascular disease. The Council supported a request to consider technical support from PAHO’s EC Office for the development and submission of two CCHD (Cooperation among countries for Health Development) Projects for 2024/25.
Additionally, the Council received a presentation by the Caribbean Association of Oncology and Hematology (CAOH) on Cancer Screening Guidelines. The Council commended CAOH’s efforts to mobilise resources for guideline implementation, monitoring and evaluation in collaboration with the relevant regional stakeholders; and agreed to mobilise resources to complete the existing OECS-CAOH screening guidelines.
Furthermore, the Council received a presentation from the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) on the global and regional perspectives on Diabetes Mellitus. The Council noted the availability of global and regional frameworks, resolutions, guidelines and supporting tools to engage in diabetes surveillance, prevention, and control levels at the country level.
The 9th Meeting of the OECS Council of Ministers: Health concluded with a site visit to the Dr. D. Orlando Smith Hospital, and a Press Briefing at the Government information Service (GIS) studios in the British Virgin Islands.
About the OECS Council of Ministers: Health
The Council of Ministers: Health is an annual meeting of Ministers of Health from the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Member States.. The meeting provides a platform for Ministers to discuss and collaborate on health issues and challenges facing the region. Ministers also explore and develop joint approaches, policies, and practices to improve access to quality health services for all OECS citizens.