As we examine lessons learned from the economic effects of COVID-19, there is need to be reminded of the recommendations from the seminal 2006 Report of the Caribbean Commission on Health and Development, chaired by Sir George Alleyne. That Report made the case for action to increase investment in health in the Caribbean Community and more poignantly according to its Chair “to make the region’s leaders converts to the cause of health”. The lynchpin of this conversion is the strategy for the consolidation of functional cooperation through the Caribbean Cooperation in Health. It is aptly branded in the 2000 Nassau Declaration, The Health of the Region is the Wealth of the Region. See full report here: Report of the Caribbean Commission on Health and Development By The Caribbean Commission on Health and Development
Key Messages - then: Persistence and Relevance - now
The Report is as relevant today as it was 14 years ago, if for no other reason than its key messages assert the role of health in development as follows:
The Report identified the tremendous progress that the Caribbean had made over the decades and the real possibility that if sustained, the region would have achieved or surpassed most of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 2000-2015, which it did. Most of the MDGs centered on reducing infant mortality and similar advancements in all the classic indicators of population health. These included reducing poverty which compared favorably with other countries of the world that were at similar levels of wealth and geographies. The Commission concluded that this was a result of government policies that emphasized water and sanitation, nutrition and the essentials of primary health care.
Yet the Report pointed to several challenges to be faced, including: the size and fragility of Caribbean Economies with limited resources for sustained health financing; increasing demands for maintaining a health sector more responsive to the legitimate demands for equity of access by a population exposed to information about the range of possibilities from other cultures and other realities; and continuous threats of national disasters that compound the pressures on the health system. None of these conditions has changed but they have been compounded by COVID 19 specific salutary lessons for which the messages of the Caribbean Commission 14 years ago prepared the Caribbean for actions required based on issues to be addressed.
Conclusions : Build Back Better
The Caribbean has lagged in social investment in recent years, with debt servicing diverting resources due to lack and inadequacy of resources that have constrained investments in such critical areas as education, sanitation, healthcare, housing, work programmes and skills development. This is according to ECLAC’s Special Report COVID-19 No. 5, entitled Addressing the growing impact of COVID-19 with a view to reactivation with equality: new projections. It is therefore heartening to note that functional cooperation through the Caribbean Cooperation in Health during the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in relatively low rates of spread and deaths in the Caribbean. As important, is that Caribbean youth are engaged in discussions on their role in averting the effects of COVID-19 and NCDs. It is a venture which even unwittingly, links the considerations of the Caribbean Commission 14 years ago, and the current preoccupation with the effects of COVID on the region's health and development. They articulate that their legacy is to “build back better”. GOFAD will follow up on this mission and feel optimistic that the youth will play a critical role in shaping the world where their generation and future generations thrive. In this case, they will make worthwhile our revisiting the Report of the Caribbean Commission on Health and Development.
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.