Geneva, 22 May 2019 (PAHO/WHO)—On the last day of plenary discussions, health ministers and authorities of the Region of the Americas continued to express their views on universal health coverage and shared their experiences with leaving no one behind in access to health care.

Saint Kitts and Nevis: Plea to refrain from recruiting human resources for health needed to achieve universal health

The Health Minister of Saint Kitts and Nevis, Eugene Hamilton, spoke about the efforts this small island state in the Caribbean has been making to achieve universal health, including the implementation of an efficient single health system for the entire population, and addressing noncommunicable diseases through behavior and lifestyle changes. He added that they are also working to ensure the availability of essential medicines, and emphasized efforts to address the social determinants of health.

However, Hamilton stressed that none of this will be attainable without sufficient human resources for health. He said that this island, like others in the Caribbean, faces the challenge of insufficient health workers, particularly nurses. He made a strong plea to the larger countries to refrain from recruiting health workers from countries with financial hardships like Saint Kitts and Nevis. “[We] cannot achieve health for all without these vital resources,” he said.

Jamaica: Focusing the health care strategy on people’s well-being to adapt to the greater burden of noncommunicable diseases

The Health Minister of Jamaica, Christopher Tufton, affirmed that Jamaica is committed to achieving universal health coverage by 2030. The main challenges the country faces are the triple burden of disease, including communicable and noncommunicable diseases, and natural disasters. Increasing health financing and the efficiency and accountability of health services are critical in this context.

With this mind, Tufton pointed out that Jamaica is placing great emphasis on enhancing its primary care program, the training of human resources, and moving toward a health care strategy that refocuses the population on wellness and taking responsibility for the maintenance of good health. He stated that this addresses a changing epidemiological profile where more people are facing noncommunicable diseases. He added that many health facilities are already extending the hours that services are offered to the public. He thanked the Pan American Health Organization and other partners for their continued support.

Saint Lucia: Creating national health insurance a priority for achieving universal health coverage

The Health Minister of Saint Lucia, Mary Isaac, stated that achieving universal health coverage “is becoming urgent,” given the increased burden of noncommunicable diseases and other diseases. She explained that the country is committed to making this issue the top priority, by creating national health insurance that will provide an essential package of health services to the population.

This health system entails establishing a legal framework and funding mechanisms, and also calls for enhancing the infrastructure of health services to be able to handle emergencies.

Panama: Medicines and medical supplies market must leave no room for speculation that would increase prices

The Health Minister of Panama, Miguel Mayo Di Bello, reported that Panama has implemented policies on health, which it considers a human right and a government responsibility. He said that they are working on building the health system’s response capacity and enhancing health care facilities with trained human resources and extended hours of operation, so that the country can address existing challenges and optimize the use of financial resources.

The minister described the policies aimed at improving the prevention and treatment of people with noncommunicable diseases, as well as the work being done to ensure no-cost vaccination of the population against different diseases, with the support of PAHO’s Revolving Fund for Vaccine Procurement. Mayo referred to the high cost of medicines and technologies, where the medicines and supplies market should leave no room for speculation, which would cause prices to rise. He cautioned that this could negatively impact the chances of achieving universal health coverage, and is one of the challenges the countries must work together on to address.

Barbados: Putting wellness on the health agenda will promote sustainable development

Barbados remains committed to achieving universal health coverage, which is considered a basic human right, said Kenneth George, Chief Medical Officer of Barbados. He stated that small island states like Barbados recognize that the attainment of health is being shaped by forces that lie beyond the health sector. For example, many products must be imported into the region, including food, some of which does not have the nutritional quality needed to prevent obesity.

George said Barbados believes that the inclusion of wellness in all health policies and programs will not only to result in a healthier population but will promote sustainable development in the country.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines: Promoting healthy lives at all ages

The Health Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Robert Browne, spoke about the reforms that have been undertaken in the country to achieve universal coverage, ensuring that there are areas of healthy work and promotion of healthy lives at all ages. He said that the United Nations high-level meeting in September will be important to draft the roadmap toward universal health coverage, thus saving more lives.

Browne pointed out that with PAHO’s support, the country has opened more health care facilities that are prepared to respond to natural emergencies. He said they are also working on tackling noncommunicable diseases and training human resources for health.

Belize: Climate change is real and it impacts health, so collective action is needed

Belize has begun expanding its national health insurance so that all people have access to health services, said Marvin Manzanero, Director of Health Services. Belize faces significant challenges, such as the growing burden of noncommunicable diseases. He reported that the country is focusing on primary care and prevention strategies to ease the burden of these diseases, but that in many cases, measures such as the bans on sugar, tobacco, and alcohol restrictions face resistance, both internally and from stronger foreign economies.

Manzanero also pointed out that as a small country that is affected by natural disasters, “climate change is real and its impact on health is multifactorial.” In this regard, he called for a collective approach to address these issues and their solutions.

Haiti: Call to help Haitian government eliminate cholera

Haiti’s Director-General of the Ministry of Public Health, Laure Adrien, spoke about the reforms that Haiti is implementing to ensure primary care-based universal health coverage, despite all the natural disasters and problems the country has faced. He said that Haiti is currently working on prioritizing people-centered primary care.

Adrien emphasized that the fight against cholera in the country is a success story, given the reductions achieved. However, work remains to be done and he called upon donors and civil society to support the Haitian government’s efforts to eliminate this disease.

Nicaragua: Commitment to sustainable primary health care

The Secretary-General of Nicaragua’s Ministry of Health, Carlos José Sáenz, said that there has been a shift in health in the country, where average people are playing key roles in different economic and social policies and programs. He said that Nicaragua has renewed its commitment to sustainable primary health care to achieve universal health coverage, through a family and community health strategy.

He mentioned several achievements such as a reduction in cervical cancer, opening maternity homes for pregnant women, introduction of new vaccines, and the development of family care and health promotion programs.