In 2016, OECS Heads of Government established the OECS Health Unit in recognition of a single OECS health space to drive the regional functional cooperation approach to implementing the OECS Growth and development strategy (OGDS) for the OECS Health sector.
In April 2017 the Health Unit became operational, incorporating the work of what was previously the HIV/AIDS Programme Unit (HAPU). The Council of Health Ministers meeting in Martinique in November of 2017 was a landmark meeting in which the Ministers of Health in the OECS approved the OGDS Health Agenda 2017-2030 and declared their commitment to the regional approach through the Fort de France Declaration on Health.
Principles of the Revised Treaty of Basseterre
These goals are being pursued with the recognition of the principles of the Revised Treaty of Basseterre including:
- Economic Harmonisation and Integration
- Free movement of goods, people and capital
- Harmonised policies
- Protection of Human and Legal Rights
- Good Governance
- Joint negotiating stances and arrangements
- facilitation of cross border activities
- a common social policy framework
The OGDS Health Agenda 2017-2030, will be used to guide resource mobilization. Actual activities will be determined on an annual basis and programmed into the OECS Commission Annual Work Plan (AWP). Annual activities will be influenced by Member State priorities as documented in the monthly Health Policy Forum, annual Council of Ministers of Health meetings and biannual Heads of Authority meetings. The plans will reflect current national, regional and global priorities and may be limited by capacity, resources and funds. Monitoring and evaluation will be done using SDG and other existing regional and global targets and indicators.
The OECS Health Unit works closely with PAHO/WHO (Pan American Health Organisation/ World Health Organisation), CARPHA (Caribbean Public Health Agency) and CARICOM (Caribbean Community) as key partners. Barbados is included in the PAHO Eastern Caribbean Office and therefore Barbados has a special relationship with the OECS in the area of health. The OECS Health Unit also works closely with other units in the OECS Commission Human and Social Cluster as well as with other parts of the OECS Commission including Environmental Health and Statistics.
The ten commitments of the Fort de France Declaration
The ten commitments of the Fort de France Declaration toward the realization of Health for all are:
- Share Health Human Resources,
- Facilitate pooled procurement of health equipment and services,
- Collect and share the relevant information to drive the strategic direction of health including quality and outcome indicators,
- Develop and implement common policy and legislative approaches in health,
- Develop and disseminate common messages on healthy living,
- Create healthy environments through appropriate planning, development and community engagement,
- Prioritise prevention and primary care particularly for non-communicable diseases,
- Share access to specialized services,
- Jointly prepare for and respond to health emergencies,
- Share Best Practices and conduct common research.
The OGDS Health Agenda 2017-2030 is aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs) and with the regional Caribbean Cooperation in Health IV (CCHIV), and PAHOregional strategies with OECS Countries and UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs). Thesestrategies have had wide consultation and input from OECS Member States. TheStrategies were presented and circulated to the OECS Health Policy Forum. The OGDSHealth Agenda 2017-2030 addresses a common approach to health through the followingfour (4) key strategic pillars or goals
- Healthy Environments and Health Empowerment
- Equity in Access to Sustainable Quality Healthcare Services
- Accessible Information for Strategic Governance of Health Systems
- Long-term Investment in the Health Sector.
Healthy Environments and Health Empowerment
The strategic actions in so far as encouraging Healthy Environments and Health Empowerment is concerned are:
- Health Emergency Response
- Healthy & Safe Physical Environments
- Healthy Behaviors
- Health in All Policies
- Walk the Talk
Health is closely related to behaviours and can be greatly influenced by the environment. Food availability and affordability is a large contributing factor to dietary habits. Schools and workplaces should encourage good nutrition and physical activity while enabling the management of chronic diseases such as asthma in children, and diabetes and hypertension in adults. Individuals should be educated, encouraged and enabled at all spaces to have healthy habits and appropriately manage disease. Lifestyle diseases account for the biggest burden of mortality and morbidity in the OECS. Commitments of the Port of Spain declaration and the “Best Buys” of the NCD Global Action plan can serve as a menu of actions for the related strategic objectives.
Healthy Environments include environmental issues such as water and sanitation as well as safe environments free from accidents and violence. Climate change and poor environmental conditions have contributed to the re-emergence of communicable disease outbreaks due to the Aedes mosquitoes such as Dengue, Zika, Chikungunya and Yellow Fever (WHO, 2017).
An important aspect of this strategic goal is the response to natural, manmade and health specific emergencies and disasters. The Caribbean Region is known to especially vulnerable to natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes, and the health sector has an immediate response following these disasters. In addition the recent outbreak of Ebola and previous global outbreaks of SARS and Avian Flu underscore the need for robust health emergency response systems and fulfillment of requirements of the International Health Regulations (IHR).