Guyana’s Health Issues addressed at World Health Organization (WHO) Board Meeting

The 146th session of the Executive Board took place at WHO headquarters in Geneva from February 3rd to 8, 2020. Although Minister of Health Volda Lawrence, currently Vice Chair of the WHO Board, could not attend due to duties at home directly related to the Novel Coronavirus, Guyana’s Geneva mission participation was guided from Georgetown and called for increased attention and support to critical health issues in Guyana.

Guyana made several interventions at the meeting, including on Primary Health Care (PHC), Universal Health Coverage (UHC), Cervical Cancer, Food Safety and the need for more accessible and affordable Vaccines.

On the second day of the meeting, the Director General of WHO Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that –

“the winds of change in health care often call for big visible health interventions such as new hospitals, but  to make progress in tackling noncommunicable disease and communicable diseases, primary health care is the answer – that goes for high-income countries and low-income countries as well… if we really believe in primary health care (PHC) we need to stand against the wind.”

In his intervention on PHC, Ambassador John Deep Ford, leader of the Guyana delegation pointed out that the Government of Guyana has fully endorsed the PHC initiative and one important commitment is to work to ensure that citizens do not have to travel more than 5 kilometres to receive free primary healthcare services.  Guyana’s Ambassador further indicated that with the rest of the CARICOM region Guyana is keen to develop a joint roadmap, based on the WHO’s Operational Framework on PHC, to achieve our PHC objectives. Further, the Guyana mission mentioned that Guyana is committed to ensuring Universal Health Coverage and embraces the PAHO 30-30-30 Compact that calls for a concerted effort to eliminate access barriers to health care by at least 30%, increasing public spending on health to at least 6% of gross domestic product, with 30% of these resources invested in the first level of care, to achieve universal health and the SDGs by 2030. Ambassador Ford emphasized that there is need for innovative approaches for financing health insurance given the small populations in some countries and the vulnerability of the region to disasters.

WHO’s draft global strategy to accelerate the elimination of cervical cancer emphasized prevention policies, expansion of screening and early treatment services at the primary care level. Cervical cancer is the fourth leading cause of death for women in the CARICOM region. Guyana supported the resolution on cervical cancer calling on the Director General to expand assistance to Member States to implement the global strategy.  In emphasizing the need for increased access to vaccines Ambassador Ford indicated Guyana’s support for the  Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP) and called for vigilance related to vaccine needs of migrants and persons in post disaster situations, especially in the case of children that are missed and/or do not complete their vaccination program. He urged that universal access to vaccines remain a high political priority, including responding to increasing pressure from “anti-vaccine” groups.

The impact of Unsafe Food on health was emphasized in the Board meeting, indicating that harmful bacteria, viruses and parasites cause more than 200 diseases, ranging from diarrhoea to cancers, and that children under 5 years of age carry 40% of the foodborne disease burden, accounting for 125,000 deaths every year. The Guyana mission indicated its recognition of the problem and that food safety practices needed to be strengthened all along our food value chains. In this regard one critical need to be addressed was identified as the weak data on food borne illnesses and traceability systems that link the unsafe food to the source and basis of the problem. The importance of the Caribbean Agricultural Health and Food Safety Agency (CAHFSA) leading in this area was emphasized and that its limited capacity needed to be strengthened.  CARICOM recognizes this weakness and at the 81st COTED meeting held in Belize in Oct 2019 a recommendation was approved to establish a Caribbean Food Safety Task Force to serve in an advisory role to CAHFSA and to support coordination of food safety activities in the region.

The WHO Executive Board is composed of 34 members elected for three-year terms. The annual Board meeting sets the agenda and agrees on resolutions to be considered by the World Health Assembly. Other topics under discussion this year included WHO’s response to severe, large-scale emergencies; research and development for diseases with epidemic potential; antimicrobial resistance; healthy aging; harmful alcohol use; eye care; and promoting the health of migrants.

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