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The OECS and Barbados stand united at WHA73 with focus on COVID-19

May 21, 2020 Coronavirus (Covid-19) No Comments Email Email

Given the current COVID-19 Pandemic, the World Health Organisation (WHO), for the first time since it was founded in 1948, is conducting a World Health Assembly with secure virtual participation of its Member States.

The two-day meeting, currently underway from 18 – 19 May 2020, has seen active participation from the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and Barbados. Notably, Minister Molwyn Joseph of Antigua and Barbuda delivered a regional statement on behalf of the grouping on the first day of the international event.

Prime Minister Mia Mottley, current chair of the Caribbean Community gave a stimulating presentation in the opening ceremony alongside the Heads of State of China, France, Germany, South Africa and others, in which she recognised the Caribbean’s public health champions and frontline workers and advocated for the use of measures other than gross domestic product (GDP) to determine eligibility for grant and relief needs in our vulnerable small island states. Prime Minister Mottley also thanked the Republic of Cuba for the palpable support to our countries on the ground.

Her Excellency Keva Bain, the Bahamas Ambassador and representative to the United Nations, was elected to the esteemed role of President of the 73rd World Health Assembly. It must also be noted that, for the first time in history, two countries from the Caribbean occupy seats on the WHO Executive Board – namely Grenada and Guyana. Both countries are ably represented by the Ministers of Health, the Hon Nickolas Steele and the Hon Volda Lawrence, respectively.

While the WHO has embraced the technology of live broadcasting of the World Health Assembly for a few years, country delegations were always required to attend the event at the Palais des Nations in Geneva in order to be able to have their votes counted and voices heard.

The full participation of all independent OECS Member States is therefore noteworthy this year, given that attendance is often made difficult due to high costs of travel and accommodation for the event, which usually lasts a week or more. Last year, despite these challenges, and supported by the OECS Geneva Office, five (5) of the six (6) independent states were represented at the World Health Assembly. At that 72nd World Health Assembly, the OECS Office also worked closely with Trinidad and Tobago to host a side meeting for CARICOM delegates.

Minister Joseph in his statement called for the following:

  • To ensure our small states are not left behind, the region calls on global partnerships to address the following needs for COVID-19 and Beyond:
    • Access to financing and debt forgiveness to allow the region to effectively address the fallout of the pandemic; and to support vulnerable populations, households, and businesses;
    • Continued support of PAHO and WHO to strengthen health systems and support transitioning to appropriate technologies including digital and telemedicine solutions;
    • Access to currently needed supplies for COVID-19 response and equal access to emerging rapid tests, medicines, vaccines, and technologies; and
    • Development of relevant protocols for reopening of the economies including the hospitality and cruise industries.

In addition, Minister Joseph took the opportunity to thank PAHO, WHO and several Regional Agencies in the Caribbean Community in the joint response against COVID-19 including:

  • the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA);
  • the Caribbean Disaster Management Agency (CDEMA);
  • the Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS);
  • the Regional Security System (RSS); and
  • the University of the West Indies (UWI).

The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States continues to recognise the leading role of Public Health Agencies such as CARPHA, PAHO and WHO in regional and global health security, advancing universal health coverage and ensuring health for all.

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