Region must work together on health front
THE FEAR AND uncertainties surrounding the Ebola virus have highlighted glaring weakness in our health care system. It is not simply about Barbados but of the entire English-speaking Caribbean. The situation cries out for a solution going forward.
Ebola or any other infectious disease – polio, HIV/AIDS and leprosy, among others – will present a range of challenges for small, financially burdened nation states such as those in the Caribbean. The exception is Cuba, which despite the berating its health care system is subjected to, even by some in Barbados, has exhibited remarkable resilience.
Despite the crippling effects of a long-standing economic embargo by the United States, that small nation has been able to do wonders in health care. Areas of success include control of infectious diseases, establishment of a research and biotechnology industry, and progress in combating chronic diseases. Cuba has also been a first responder in many areas of Africa and Latin America. Its efforts on the front line to control the Ebola outbreak are remarkable.
It is that clear our medical personnel give of their best in the fight against infectious diseases. Take the case of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The care of those afflicted with the disease is not beyond our professionals. However, the region had to depend on the World Bank and the Clinton Health Access Initiative to help realise many of its goals to stem the spread of this disease.
The dramatic increase in drug-resistant microbes, combined with the lag in development of new antibiotics and health care deficiencies, the growing ease and frequency of cross-border movements of people and produce, all greatly facilitate the spread of infectious diseases. We simply do not have the capacity to respond quickly to these national threats.
There is already an agency, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) based in Port of Spain, to serve as the lead organisation for coordinating pan-Caribbean action in areas including disease surveillance, emergency preparedness and response, and health promotion and communication. It also coordinates a network of laboratories.
The spread of Ebola should have been the perfect time for the entire region to have put together a united approach to an issue which, if it affects one island, the perception outside of the region will be that all have been affected. So the haphazard approach of Caribbean islands to this most recent problem was glaring, without uniformity in either policy or approach. The disunited position of how to deal with the affected West African nations highlighted the divide.
While it is a health matter on this occasion, it may be an environmental or fisheries issue the next time. The go-it-alone position by regional governments on this occasion was of no benefit to anyone and merely gave firepower to the anti-CARICOM lobby. That is the last thing we can afford at this time.