CARPHA’s regional response to the COVID-19 pandemic
G7 Summit

CARPHA’s regional response to the COVID-19 pandemic

The Caribbean is particularly vulnerable to the virus. CARPHA’s early response has put the region in good standing, but inequalities have been exposed

The first confirmed case of COVID-19, which was an importation, was reported in the Caribbean on 10 March 2020. By mid April 2021, globally there were over 136 million COVID-19 cases and over 2.9 million deaths reported, with 639,277 confirmed cases in 35 countries in the Caribbean region, of which 147,572 confirmed cases were in CARICOM members.
The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), the sole public health agency in the region, is leading the public health response to COVID-19 as a health security issue, working closely with member states, the CARICOM Security Cluster, and regional and international public health and development partners through the Regional Coordination Mechanism for Health Security. CARPHA’s active response began in January 2020 by alerting chief medical officers of the developing situation in China, and subsequently activating its Incident Management Team – Emergency Response to prepare for the virus and its variants, as well as to prepare all sectors to mitigate their effects on the socio-economic environment.

The Caribbean is the world’s most tourism-dependant region. So COVID-19 has threatened life and livelihoods because tourism is intricately interwoven into our culture and ways of living. However, members here have done better than other regions, showing much lower infection rates due to early proactive measures including border closures, surveillance and response, and sustained stringent public health measures. Vaccine roll-out to reach herd immunity, along with public health measures, is the main way to safely reopen tourism and to economic recovery. But vaccine access has been inequitable and slow, not keeping pace with the need to open as in pre–COVID-19 days. CARICOM members’ capacity to rapidly identify, test, quarantine, isolate, treat and trace contacts of new cases and to identify variants is still not up to the scale needed to prevent the deaths those variants produce.

CARPHA prioritises the region’s safety and protection. Thus, its response to COVID-19 encompasses a range of versatile activities, including coordination with regional and international agencies and engagement with multiple national and regional sectors. Inescapable challenges are addressed, and some transformed into opportunities. However, this new phase could produce illness and loss of life on a scale that can eliminate whole populations.


COVID-19 is propelled by travel. The Caribbean is thus at increased risk of importing the virus and its variants, and spreading disease, due to the porous borders and interconnectedness of CARICOM members.
The pandemic has emphasised inequalities in the accessibility and procurement of supplies, such as test kits and personal protective equipment early in the pandemic and, currently, the accessibility and distribution of vaccines. It has highlighted the inequitable, preferential access bestowed on larger, more powerful countries to fundamental equipment, supplies and vaccines. COVID-19 has also exposed heterogeneous capacities, disparities and gaps for monitoring, surveillance and response to public health emergencies nationally, regionally and globally.


CARPHA leads the Caribbean’s coordinated, public health response to COVID-19 through its multi-faceted, multipronged approach, including facilitating regional coordination through the heads of government, the Council for Human and Social Development, the Regional Coordination Mechanism for Health Security, chief medical officers, the Expert Advisory Group on COVID-19 and the Incident Management Team. It also provides coordination for the health, tourism, security and education sectors. It conducts epidemiological surveillance with situation reports as well as laboratory testing, surveillance and PCR test validation; and it produces technical guidelines for response and testing. It supports capacity building, with COVID-19 health rounds, webinars, and series on tourism health and safety.

It participates in the COVID-19 Tourism Task Force and has created Proactive Health Measures for Reopening. It produces risk communications including press releases, briefings, videos and brochures, working with the Regional Health Communication Network. It has also launched a COVID-19 tracker app, and engages in mobilising resources and supporting procurement for vaccinations and operational research.
CARPHA also launched innovative tools for the safe and healthy return to travel through the Caribbean’s Travellers Health Assurance Stamp for Healthier Safer Tourism and the Caribbean Traveller’s Health App.
CARPHA remains committed to supporting its members in the fight against COVID-19. However, to save lives, vaccine access must cover our small populations to allow tourism to resume.


The short-, medium- and long-term considerations for G7 leaders at the Cornwall Summit are to provide supply of excess vaccines to the Caribbean region through bilateral channels, to facilitate a CARPHA-G7 partnership by allowing for science and research collaboration and to provide the technology for vaccine and PPE production in the region.