Categorized | National News

PAHO/WHO Director Encourages Strong Action to Advance Health for All

Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), was hosted to a high level ministerial luncheon, held in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and the PAHO/WHO country office for The Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

The event marked the first major dialogue between government and community leaders with the director on her first official visit to the country.

Dr. Etienne had an opportunity to interact with several members of government, including, the Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis, members of the Cabinet Sub-Committee on National Health Insurance (NHI): Minister of Health Dr. Perry Gomez, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Allyson Maynard-Gibson, QC, Minister of Labour and National Insurance Shane Gibson and Minister for Grand Bahama Dr. Michael Darville.

The director opened the dialogue noting that Universal Access to Health (UA), Universal Health Coverage (UHC) & Health Systems Strengthening (HSS) is based on improving the first level of care. The commitment to this health reform is based on “equity, solidarity, a focus on the poor, the vulnerable and those individuals excluded in the current health system,” said Dr. Etienne.

“Health systems strengthening based on a primary health care approach while simultaneously improving secondary and tertiary care, is the most cost-effective with the biggest benefit to our countries,” Dr. Etienne continued.

She urged leaders that while strengthening the different levels of patient care is important, it is absolutely vital that we have “a strong focus on health promotion and prevention and addressing the social determinants of health.”

“Populations are growing, demographics are changing and so must our approach to health,” said Dr. Etienne.

“The Caribbean faces an NCD tsunami and it cannot be solely addressed by the Ministry of Health. It will require collaboration, a multi-sectoral approach, a ‘health in all policies’ approach is required to address challenges to health, including non-communicable diseases (NCDs).”

With nearly one in four Bahamians suffering from hypertension and one in five from elevated blood glucose/diabetes, “we cannot ignore this problem any longer. It is affecting persons at a younger age and it will create a burden on your national health system if other ministries and sectors do not see health as their focus,” she said.

Dr. Etienne challenged the group to combat tobacco and harmful use of alcohol, while addressing the high obesity rate and physical inactivity.

“Tobacco legislation is absolutely necessary from increased tariffs, larger warning labels, plain packaging and smoke free-spaces to protect the most vulnerable,” Dr. Etienne added.

The Bahamas is a signatory of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2009 with proposed regulations to come into effect within five years of signing the protocol.

Dr. Etienne encouraged the participants to “work with food producers to help reduce the high levels of salt, sugars and fat in their product formulation – in the most popular foods consumed by the public” and recommended “the formation of an NCD Commission with strong leadership to spearhead education and policy initiatives to address the epidemic of non-communicable diseases in the country.”

She highlighted the many ways in which PAHO has provided technical support and assistance to countries to advance UA/UHC including: evidence and support for infrastructure upgrades, assistance with health financing options, identifying options to reduce inefficiencies, generic drug procurement through the PAHO Revolving Fund and recommendations on government health spending.

She acknowledged the advances of The Bahamas in the area of health and recognized that patience is required in the country’s moving towards health for all.

Written by Jones Bahamas

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