By Kadeem Joseph
Today, Antigua and Barbuda joins the rest of the globe in celebrating World Health Day, under the theme ‘Together for a fairer and healthier world”.
This year, every country the world over continues to navigate this Covid-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) is making an urgent call to eliminate health inequities in a general thrust towards a world where no one’s health needs are cast aside.
This ethos could not be more fitting, at a time where leaders in the developing world continue to bemoan the difficulties faced in trying to access life-saving vaccines to stem the spread of the virus and reduce the strain on health care systems.
Countries like Antigua and Barbuda have faced an uphill battle throughout this ordeal, from the struggle to get Covid-19 test kits, reagents and ventilators during 2020, to the scramble to get lifesaving vaccines in 2021.
During WHO’s weekly press briefing on Monday, Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley was sure to underscore these challenges and how they have nearly crippled the region on a whole.
“In the Caribbean, our journey has been torturous over the last year,” she said. “The reality is that our market size, in many instances, is simply too small to command the attention of global pharmaceutical companies or indeed of other supplier of goods in the normal supply chain.”
Like Prime Minister Gaston Browne and other leaders have in the past, Mottley hastened to add that countries in the region are hard pressed to get adequate support from the global community since the regard the region as having “come out of the depths of poverty”.
The old adage says that no man is an island, meaning that no one is self-sufficient. Perhaps, based on how we have fared thus far during this global health and economic crisis, no island is an island either.
Many of our islands are largely dependent on tourism, and with limited natural resources, the quake of this economic crisis on our gross domestic products definitely has obvious aftershocks.
Our officials continue to hope for a return to tourism as First World countries roll out major vaccine campaigns, many of whom have ordered much more than they need according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and other health agencies.
As our people reflect today, perhaps we should take to heart the admonition of PAHO’s Assistant Director Dr Jarbas Barbosa, who has said the region must assess the potential for having vaccine manufacturing and the development of other avenues for the provision of health supplies.
Further, we must also reaffirm our commitment to become a healthier people. The region, rich with culture and vivacious people is unfortunately also rich in non-communicable diseases like diabetes and hypertension.
The incidence of these diseases had the potential to make the fallout from the Covid pandemic even more devastating to the region, since the virus affects people with underlying ailments more severely.
Addressing these issues will be no easy feat. It is for this reason that health must become part and parcel of Antigua and Barbuda and the rest of the region’s developmental goals.
While we certainly struggle as silos trying to navigate the global playing field as highlighted by PM Mottley, the region definitely stands to make a greater impact as a unit.
Countries, as has been suggested time and time again, must also be more progressive with health education and health promotions.
Laws like the suggested tax on sugary beverages that have been promoted by Minister of Health Molwyn Joseph should be enacted and see strict enforcement as well, with the proceeds going towards the subsidisation of healthier options. As a country, a region, we individually face a multiplicity of challenges, but now more than ever, the demand for cooperation and unity is clear and bacons to all of us to be better, to be healthier.