The Director also gave a presentation to the Cabinet of Ministers and congratulated the country for reducing poverty, promoting universal education and increasing access to quality health services

Saint Lucia, April 29 2019 (PAHO/WHO)- The Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Carissa F. Etienne, met today with the Prime Minister of St Lucia, Allen Chastanet, and gave a presentation to the Cabinet of Ministers, during which she congratulated the Government for taking steps towards achieving universal health.

“We at PAHO are entirely committed to the fulfillment of this vision, and we know that our Member States are too. It is this commitment and resolve that puts this objective at such close grasp,” said Dr. Etienne.  “Small island economies, like Saint Lucia, understandably face additional challenges to finance comprehensive health services. PAHO accompanies its Member States and works closely with them towards the integration of sub-systems, pooling of resources and mitigating risks,” she said, adding that this requires “stronger engagement and coordination between Ministries of Finance and Health”.   

Pime Minister of St. Lucia with Dr. Carissa F. Etienne

Dr Etienne recognized the initiative shown through the establishment of the Organization for Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Pharmaceutical Procurement Scheme given that access to medicine is an essential pillar to achieve Universal Health. She said that PAHO is ready to continue to support that mechanism through its pooled-procurement mechanism, the Strategic Fund.

“As St Lucia embarks on the endeavor of strengthening its health system to ensure access to health for its population, PAHO offers its unwavering support to accompany you through this entire process: planning, implementation and monitoring.”

“I will not be the one to tell you that a transformation this profound does not come easily. For most of the Region’s countries, economic and social development has been hampered by sluggish economic growth, rising costs of medicines, and a growing demand for care due to aging populations and increases in non-communicable diseases. The Caribbean Region, in particular, faces the whiplash of climate change, natural disasters, and new and re-emerging public health challenges” said the PAHO Director. “As St Lucia embarks on the endeavor of strengthening its health system to ensure access to health for its population, PAHO offers its unwavering support to accompany you through this entire process: planning, implementation and monitoring.”

Dr. Etienne said that ensuring universal health goes beyond aspects related to health services, and also involves addressing the social determinants of health. She highlighted that Saint Lucia has good examples of joint initiatives with other sectors to improve health by addressing its determinants.  These include working across sectors to reduce poverty, promote universal education for all children until the age of 16 years, protecting the environment and increasing access to quality health care services.

“We know that we face many difficulties, and this calls for joint action. We need to work together. It is only by adopting a multi-sectoral approach that we can truly address the complexity of our challenges”, she said.

The topic of immunization was cited as the single most low-cost, high-impact intervention to protect health. The Director of PAHO highlighted how countries including Saint Lucia have enacted legislation in collaboration with the education sector, requiring vaccinations for school entry. This, she noted, is a good example of health in all policies and demonstrates the commitment to immunization as a public good and a government priority.  With measles at the doorstep of the Caribbean and the ongoing transmission of polio in some countries of the world, Dr Etienne also emphasized that the gains made towards eliminating these diseases must be protected.

Dr Etienne said that Caribbean Small-Island States have conditions that make them vulnerable to climate change and other environmental changes, and to this end, PAHO worked alongside countries in the preparation of the “Caribbean Action Plan Health and Climate Change” which will be officially delivered to the Prime Minister of Saint Lucia later this week.

“This Action Plan aims to increase awareness; integrate health issues in the climate change agenda; develop climate-resilient, green and more sustainable health systems; mainstream funding opportunities to countries and promote inter-sectoral action that provides co-benefits to health – with the ultimate goal to protect the health of Caribbean populations from the effects of climate change,” said Etienne. 

The Director of PAHO also addressed the impact of non-communicable diseases and risk factors specific to Saint Lucia. She highlighted some effective policy interventions to promote healthy living including the taxation of sugar-sweetened beverages, front-of-package labelling and restriction of marketing to children.  “You have the opportunity to enact legislation that makes the healthier choice, the easier choice, protecting the lives of not only present but also future generations,” she said.  

The Director concluded by reiterating PAHO’s continued commitment and support to the Government and people of Saint Lucia.

The Prime Minister of Saint Lucia stated that his Government was taking bold initiatives to assure affordable health care through working in four main areas:

  • Designing and implementing a National Health Insurance 
  • Strengthening of Primary and Public Health to ensure every child gets their full vaccines, increasing the effectiveness of the prevention of NCDs, increasing the national efforts to reduce mosquito borne diseases and strengthening the quality of primary wellness centres and medical centres.
  • Implementing a quality assurance framework, through the adoption of ISO-9001 for quality management systems
  • Commissioning of the national hospitals to offer high quality secondary care.

The Prime Minister congratulated and thanked PAHO for the work that they have done in Saint Lucia, the Caribbean and the Americas. 

Dr. Etienne is visiting St Lucia this week to attend several meetings with authorities. On Thursday May 2, she will participate in the launch of the Caribbean Action Plan on Health and Climate Change, among other activities.