Regional partners are meeting at the Barbados Beach Club in Maxwell, over three days, to discuss a framework for Caribbean Cooperation in Health Phase III. 

Addressing the meeting today, Minister of Health, Dr. David Estwick said: “Since the adoption of the first CCH by CARICOM Health Ministers in 1984 and by CARICOM Heads of Government in 1986, there have been significant strides in the integration of resources to enhance technical cooperation amongst member countries of the CARICOM.”

He noted that functional cooperation had been a commonplace practice among CARICOM countries for many years and that the health sector had been a pioneer having many well-established mechanisms for this. These, he said, included the regional health institutions, professional organisations such as the regional nursing body and structures for education such as the University of the West Indies and Tropical Medicine Research Institutes.

The Barbadian Health Minister acknowledged that the regional objectives of full economic empowerment of CARICOM nationals and the creation of sustainable job opportunities for citizens could not be realised if our population failed to enjoy complete physical, mental, social, environmental and spiritual health.

While disclosing figures on life expectancy in the region, he added that, “our increasing elderly population is a testimony to our commitment to the primary health care strategy and the supportive policies and programmes to ensure access and equity in the provision and delivery of health care services in our region.”

In the last 40 years life expectancy in the English-speaking Caribbean has risen by 15.3 years. This is compared to 18 years globally. By 2025, the elderly population in the region is expected to make up an estimated 10.4% of our total population.

However, according to Dr. Estwick, this ageing population has also been accompanied by a rise in the prevalence of chronic non-communicable diseases (CNCDs).   “The mortality trend in the Eastern Caribbean countries showed that CNCDs accounted for the five leading causes of death in the year 2000. Over time these diseases have proven costly to treat, requiring medication and long term hospitalisation,” he said.  

He added that at the opposite end of the spectrum, children and adolescents were coming of age in a fast-moving world of shifting values and changing traditions.   “They are exposed through multiple media resources to the lure of risky behavioural practices associated with substance abuse, violence and early sexual activity,” declared Dr. Estwick.

He continued: “Exposure to HIV is but one of the consequences of this behaviour. This region is facing what could be termed an emerging HIV/AIDS pandemic which affecting our people in the most productive years 15-44 cohort. Coupled with this, CNCDs are being developed in school-aged children. Their often poor nutritional status in utero has determined vulnerability to the poor lifestyle choices that have many of our youths showing a preference for low nutritional value, high fat, high calorie foods and sedentary pastimes.”

The first CCH framework sought to promote collective and collaborative action to solve critical health problems at a regional level rather than by individual country action.  The eight priority programme areas identified for CCH III are as follows: CNCDs, Communicable Diseases including HIV/AIDS, Environmental Health, Family Health, Food and Nutrition, Health Systems Development, Manpower Development and Mental Health.

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