Regional health conference focuses on multisectoral approach

Health managers from across the Caribbean gathered for a two-day conference in Grenada on November 9th and 10th, 2023, to examine how health promotion can continue to improve the health of Caribbean people.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) event entitled ‘Strengthening Health Promotion: Three Decades after the Caribbean Charter’, recognized the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the Caribbean Charter for Health Promotion during the first Caribbean Conference of Health Promotion held in 1993.

Among the objectives of the conference was to review the current status of Health Promotion in the region; to identify the key strengths and the pending challenges the Caribbean countries face, 30 years later, in order to advance in Health Promotion; to reinforce the importance of integrating Health Promotion as a key priority in the political and technical agendas; and to identify opportunities for action to define a roadmap to advance Health Promotion in the Caribbean.

In welcoming participants to the conference, PAHO/WHO Representative for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Countries (ECC), Dr. Amalia Del Riego, thanked the Ministry of Health, Wellness and Religious Affairs in Grenada for their support.

“This meeting is to celebrate our achievements, look at the unfinished agenda and more importantly to move forward in the development of innovative approaches. So PAHO/WHO will continue to be an important partner with you in this journey.”

Dr. Del Riego outlined the complexity of the health landscape in the region, highlighting the burden of non communicable diseases (NCDs) driven largely by the high rates of hypertension, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases, the burden of infectious diseases such as vector-borne illnesses, pandemics, the prevalence of mental health issues which are on the rise and the challenges being caused by climate change.

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in widespread loss of life and astronomical costs in all nations. However, there were lessons learned and The Minister of Health, Wellness and Religious Affairs, Senator, The Honourable Jonathan LaCrette, reflected that the COVID-19 pandemic presented an opportunity for countries to prioritise health.

Minister LaCrette described COVID-19 as “allowing us the opportunity to put pen to paper and take out the health file from under the pile where it was and put it on top from an international perspective.”

The Minister stated that “all across the globe, health is being championed,” and expressed pleasure since “the only way our economies are going to be sustained is if we have healthy and productive citizens.”

He added: “So we have converged on Grenadian soil this morning so that we will be able to build the necessary strategies and though they might be contextual when you return to your respective countries, from a regional perspective we can speak with one regional voice as it relates to what health promotion must look like in our various countries.”

Dr. Gerry Eijkemans, PAHO/WHO Director of the Department of Social and Environmental Determinants for Health Equity, reiterated “that health promotion is an invaluable tool, as keeping our people healthy is the most important thing we can do.”

Commenting on other considerations affecting health, she added: “We all know that even if we want to live healthy and we want to exercise, or if we want to eat healthy food, if it is too expensive, or if the environment is not safe enough, or if we don’t have time because we need to work several jobs and take care of children, the lifestyle follows the environment and policies that we set.”

‘Strengthening Health Promotion: Three Decades after the Caribbean Charter’ was attended by Ministers of Health, permanent secretaries, Chief Medical Officers, health promotion officers and PAHO officials from the Office of Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Countries (ECC), Washington DC, Belize and Suriname.

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