Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. 17 August 2023. The transboundary spread of infectious diseases is a threat to regional and global health security. The devastating global impact of COVID-19 and other public health concerns, reiterate the necessity for regional and global health security to protect and improve health.
Regional Health Security (RHS) encompasses the capacities required for the Caribbean to prepare for and respond to public health threats, risks, priority issues and concerns that transcend national boundaries and potentially impact on economic stability, trade, tourism, and access to goods and services in the Region. RHS offers a coordinated approach which is especially crucial in the Caribbean as the Region – like the Pacific and African small island developing states - is characterised by small, under-resourced populations and varying surveillance, laboratory and human resource capacities. It is also highly interconnected with porous borders, heavily reliant on tourism, and susceptible to climate change and disasters.
This combination of factors significantly increases the region's exposure and vulnerability to disease spread, enabling rapid spread of highly transmissible communicable diseases. Furthermore, the tropical climate, and abundance of competent vectors make the region particularly vulnerable to vector-borne disease outbreaks. Consequently, regional health security and prevention, preparedness and response to public health emergencies need to be improved not only at the national levels, but at the regional level, as functional regional capacities are greater than the sum of the capacities of individual countries for improving RHS in the Caribbean.
On August 8-9th, 2023, CARPHA convened a RHS Planning Meeting at the Hilton Trinidad Hotel and Conference Centre. The RHS Planning Meeting was attended by Chief Medical Officers, a Permanent Secretary and other health representatives from 21 CARPHA Member States, 11 regional and international agencies and three (3) international developmental partners (IDPs).
This two-day meeting provided the opportunity for local, regional and international health stakeholders to facilitate a forum for the development of a detailed mapping toward the RHS Pathway, discussing key priority areas. This was reemphasized by Dr. Lisa Indar, Director, Surveillance, Disease Prevention and Control, CARPHA as she stated, “Robust, regional, integrated surveillance and early warning and response systems, enhanced laboratory and workforce capacities, supported by regional coordination and partnerships, are crucial for effective RHS in the Caribbean.”
Dr. Joy St. John, Executive Director of CARPHA delivered her opening remarks, encouraging stakeholders to be prepared to respond to public health threats to stop them from becoming emergencies. Dr. St. John highlighted the recent cases and outbreaks in the Region, such as Mpox, Norovirus and Zika, stating, “Since the declaration that COVID-19 no longer poses a threat of international concern, the Region has not rested because in the last year, the Region has detected other public health threats and increasing reports of other diseases.”
Dr. Richard Garfield, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Global Health Security and Emergency Response and Recovery Branch Team Lead commended CARPHA’s coordinated COVID-19 response, highlighting that trust and quality of communication were the most important factors in
successfully dealing with COVID-19. Dr. Garfield stated, “There’s a high level of openness to messages [CARPHA] would give the population, and a fairly high level of [CARPHA’s] ability to listen to them, their interests and concerns.” He also reiterated the need to focus on non-communicable diseases (NCDs), as NCDs are the major, quiet killers in the Region.
The Honourable Terrence Deyalsingh, Minister of Health, Republic of Trinidad and Tobago gave his keynote address stating, “Our approach to Regional Health Security must incorporate the strengthening of our nations’ core frameworks such as our political, environmental, social, technological, legal and economic systems, cognisant of the fact that we must prepare for when the next Public Health Emergency of International Concern occurs.” The Hon. Minister called for coordination, and data collection, stating “You cannot manage, what you cannot measure.” He noted that CARPHA’s two-day proceedings featured crucial sessions, especially following the World Health Assembly.
The major outcomes of this meeting include the detailing and prioritization of Member States’ current needs, increased awareness of CARPHA’s integrated surveillance and capacity building work and strengthening partnerships. These elements will assist in developing the sustainable RHS Pathway in short order.
This 2023 meeting follows the RHS meeting held in July 2022 in which CARPHA developed a RHS framework and conducted consultations with 84 stakeholders. See previous press release here: CARPHA convenes landmark high-level meeting to discuss regional health security and solidarity
More information about the RHS 2023 Meeting can be found here