PAHO Director wants small island state leaders to tackle pertinent health issues

screenshot 2023 06 14 at 7.37.52 pm
Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr Jarbas Barbosa
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The Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr Jarbas Barbosa, has challenged Antigua and Barbuda and other small island developing states (SIDS) to ensure that their political leaders are committed to tackling non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and also mental health issues. 

While addressing the opening of a ministerial conference on NCDs and mental health in Bridgetown, Barbados, yesterday, he noted that the Covid-19 pandemic had placed the region under threat.

Dr Barbosa said the ministerial conference is “key to amplify the voice and the needs of SIDS”, providing a “unique opportunity to share our learnings and chart a bold path forward”.

PAHO, he added, will continue to work with the region in supporting the accelerated implementation of NCDs and mental health interventions in three priority areas.

He also used the opportunity to call for increased access to screening, diagnosis, and treatment for NCDs and mental health, saying services must be mainstreamed within the primary health care system. 

This means “reorienting our health systems towards community-based care. And it means reducing the geographic, financial, and knowledge barriers to ensuring more people can appropriately manage their chronic conditions,” he said.

Dr Barbosa also called for multisectoral collaboration including lawmakers, civil society, professional associations, and people with lived experiences, to develop policies that address the underlying socio-economic factors driving NCDs and mental health challenges. 

He also called on countries to build on the guidance provided in the Port of Spain Declaration and Samoa Pathway, to reinforce NCD risk factor policies, strengthen primary care services for NCDs and mental health, and improve surveillance, Dr Barbosa added.

The PAHO Director underscored that while progress has been made towards reducing NCDs and mental health in SIDS, countries are not on track to reach the sustainable development goal (SDG) of a one-third reduction in NCD premature mortality by 2030.

“This is an ambitious, but feasible goal. That’s why this meeting is above all an invitation for us to embrace this agenda with all our might and go above and beyond what we’ve done up to now,” he stated.

The SIDS ministerial conference on NCDs and mental health, convened by the World Health Organization (WHO), PAHO, and the government of Barbados, is being held from June 14-16.

Taking place ahead of the UN General Assembly high level meeting on universal health coverage in September, the conference will also feed into preparatory processes leading to the fourth high level meeting on NCDs in 2025 and to future global summits on mental health.

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