Former health official commends government on WHO award

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The former head of the Health Information Division in the Ministry of Health, Colin O’Keiffe commended the government and other stakeholders for their input into the fight against tobacco, which has now resulted in the country being honoured.

Just a day before the country — along with the United Nations and Norway — hosts the historic anti-plastic pollution ‘Play it Out’ concert, Antigua and Barbuda will be honoured by another international body, the World Health Organization (WHO) for its outstanding contributions to advancing the fight against the harmful effects of tobacco smoke.

On Friday, when the global community observes the 2019 World No Tobacco Day, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Colombia, El Salvador, the United States and Uruguay will be awarded during the annual event.

World No Tobacco Day will be observed under theme “Tobacco and lung health” and the WHO said that this year’s winners have all paved the way towards the advancement of policies and measures contained in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in the region of the Americas.

Antigua is the third country in the region to approve, within a single comprehensive legislation, a ban on smoking in indoor public places and workplaces; mandatory graphic health warnings on tobacco products; and a ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

O’Keiffe, in an exclusive interview with OBSERVER media, spoke of his elation when he heard the news.

“I am elated, as a matter of fact, and I think that the Government of Antigua and Barbuda should also be elated because this type of honour is not easily bestowed on a country. You really would have to had shown sustained efforts in the whole anti-tobacco initiative over an extended period of time. I am quite certain that the other members of the Antigua and Barbuda Tobacco Free Initiative will also be very much elated to know that our work over so many years would have been recognised by the World Health Organization,” he said yesterday.

“Nobody has ever been paid to do this work since the year 2000, in putting the legislation together along with several other organisations, both private and public, specifically the Ministry of Legal Affairs. It was all a collective humane effort and I want to commend all the members of ABTFI, the Health Information Division specifically the Health Education promotion team, the Substance Abuse Prevention Division, Breast Friends and also the Ministry of Education, for providing support to ensure that Antigua and Barbuda would have achieved.”

O’Keiffe, also spoke on the impact an honour like this would have regionally.

“The legislation that we would have put forward at my time at [the Ministry of Health] is one of the strongest legislations as far as tobacco control in the region is concerned. Antigua and Barbuda is the standard now based on what we put forward which others countries who have not put forward can now look at us and see how best they can meet that standard.

“We are definitely leading the way in the region right now and the region does not mean only OECS or CARICOM it means Latin America and the Caribbean. Antigua and Barbuda will definitely be seen as a leader,” he told OBSERVER media.

World No Tobacco Day was created by WHO member states in 1987 and is commemorated each year on May 31.

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