Tufton stresses need for multilateral cooperation in COVID fightTuesday, September 21, 2021
Jamaica's Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton yesterday emphasised the importance of strengthening multilateral cooperation and addressing current weaknesses in the global public health system in order for countries to recover fully from the effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Addressing the 73rd session of the World Health Organization Regional Committee for the Americas now under way in Washington, DC, Tufton argued that “Although inequality has always been a defining feature of the global economic order, COVID-19 has sharpened inequalities, raising critical questions [as we move towards COVID-19 recovery] about the role of multilateralism in addressing shared public health challenges.”
He said now, more than ever, the Caribbean and Latin American region must act as a united force to build capacity and resilience in the public health systems, noting that the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) “has played a significant role in this regard and continues to be a unifying force in the region”.
Tufton made the observations as he accepted the presidency of PAHO's 59th Directing Council.
Here is his address:
I first want to thank the council for their vote of confidence and show of solidarity in electing Jamaica to act as president for the 59th PAHO Directing Council meeting, especially at a time when the region is facing the ongoing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. These are unprecedented times for the Americas and, indeed, the world.
The region has been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic — not only therapeutically but also socially, economically, and politically. The virus has caused major disruptions to health service delivery and has severely challenged our public health systems, putting strain on human, technical, and financial resources.
World Health Organization figures show that there have been over 226 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and over 4.5 million deaths up to September 17, 2021. On both accounts the region of the Americas has the highest numbers, with over 87 million reported cases of COVID-19 and more than two million deaths. Five countries in our region have ranked in the top 10 for cumulative deaths globally.
One salient aspect of this pandemic is that its impact has not been equal across countries, in terms of cumulative cases and deaths, and broader socio-economic effects. Vaccines have become a critical tool for recovery. Yet a disproportionate amount of the over five billion doses administered globally has gone to high-income countries. While some countries in our region have vaccinated over 50 per cent of their population, others remain below three per cent. More than a third of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are yet to vaccinate 20 per cent of their populations.
Jamaica has faced several challenges in having a reliable and consistent supply of vaccines. I want to take the opportunity to thank our neighbours in this region: Mexico, United States, and Canada for supporting us in this endeavour.
Although inequality has always been a defining feature of the global economic order, COVID-19 has sharpened inequalities, raising critical questions (as we move towards COVID-19 recovery) about the role of multilateralism in addressing shared public health challenges.
Although our region and our health systems are diverse – and it is important to recognise this – as a region, collectively we share a common vision for public health: to improve the health and quality of life of people in the region; and to get our societies and economies back to 'normal' in the shortest time possible.
Now, more than ever, the region must act as a united force to build capacity and resilience in our public health systems. PAHO has played a significant role in this regard and continues to be a unifying force in the region.
Going forward, we must commit to building a more robust health-care system, capable of addressing current and future threats through:
1. Greater efforts to address equality of access to essential medicines and health technologies.
2. Sustainable health financing.
3. Greater emphasis on primary health care.
4. More collaboration around human resource training, support, and recognition.
5. Addressing the persistent scourge of NCDs that make our populations more vulnerable to man-made or natural disasters.
6. Building the capacity for emergency response to disasters and emerging and re-emerging diseases that have become a re-occurring challenge for countries in the region and in particular small island developing states.
Finally, members of the council and delegates, let me reiterate the point that improving health care across the region and returning our societies to a sense of normality or a 'new normal' will depend on our willingness to encourage more equitable policies, deepen multilateral cooperation, and address current weaknesses in the global public health system.
The strengths of partnerships on this road to recovery are fostered by greater collaboration and less fragmentation in our efforts. Now is the time for us to join hands and hearts. Together we can succeed. We are as strong as our weakest link.
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