The effects of climate change felt in the Caribbean are now being experienced the world over. At their summit in Bali, the G20 leaders need to make commitments at the intersection of climate and health – and ensure that funds flow to the most vulnerable
How is the human and ecological health of small island developing states being harmed by compounding climate change?
The Caribbean has long felt the effects of severe weather events on its gross domestic product. It’s not only hurricanes – you can have severe flooding, and land slippage, which is often more harmful. From the perspective of global action by those who exacerbate climate change, the lack of action means the desired reduction in climate-changing action has not occurred. But the penny is starting to drop for emitters, because they are starting to get catastrophic events that affect their bottom line. There is light at the end of the tunnel for my great grandchildren.
The Caribbean has been hard hit by Covid-19, perhaps harder than some emitters, because of our dependence on tourism. But the Caribbean has a spirit of bouncing back together. This current group of heads of government is a force to be reckoned with. Understanding how to cut and contrive was always there – it came across in the slave ships with us – but the sense of finding solutions together is extremely strong. That will help us.
Another thing that is very strong is the ingenuity of our people. The common folk are meshing with the policy direction of the heads of government. So they’ve got the weight of a few million souls with them.
How is the Caribbean Public Health Agency helping?
I learned as the chief medical officer in Barbados that a good health system boosts investment. The Caribbean bounced back in terms of tourism right away. CARPHA contributed: our tourism and health programme and its information system supported the tourism sector to return. It also supported the general health of the region and allowed us to track disease and prevent major outbreaks. As a result, there was sustained confidence for investment in tourism in the Caribbean.
And there’s progress – never waste a good crisis – on infection prevention and control. Now even little children think a box on a wall is hand sanitiser. A generally healthier way of living has been inculcated into new generations, which bodes well for continuing confidence in general health-seeking compliance.
We’re also working hard on non-communicable diseases, especially for the working population, so they can be more productive.
How is CARPHA responding to recent evidence that Covid-19 infections compound other health burdens?
The chief medical officers have mandated us to address long Covid. CARPHA, collaborating with the Pan American Health Organization and our member states, is adapting the World Health Organization’s guidelines for managing Covid-19. I hope they can develop guidelines for managing long Covid.
The Caribbean quasi cabinet of heads of government includes a prime minister responsible for health who sits on the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator. That’s a strategic positioning for getting information and assistance with Covid-19.
Should CARPHA have a new mandate with new resources?
Newsflash! Resources for health are drying up. Our mandate is to have a regional clearinghouse where countries can learn from each other.
We have been trying to work better with sectors outside health. CARPHA is reviewing barriers to achievement, so we know where the gaps are to plug. Whatever architecture is decided on, CARPHA and the region are ready with our reasonable asks and our tried-and-true ways of responding pragmatically to complex situations.
What are the major challenges for the Caribbean and SIDS around the world?
Like everywhere, we need human resources for health: nurses and critical care workers, planners, procurers, finance people. It takes many hands to serve 26 member states, especially in so many languages.
Another challenge is ensuring we are not duplicating efforts. We need to bring in the donors, international development partners and public health agencies, along with the member states, which CARPHA did for regional health security, so everybody hears what is needed, and then we can drill down to who does what when.
How can G20 leaders in Bali help?
What we asked for last time we got: access to vaccinations. G20 leaders are capable of saving lives through small actions. But I need bigger actions this time.
I hope the new vaccines will deal with SARS-CoV-2, because it hasn’t gone away. We need vaccines available to everyone, so people can continue to operate safely. We need systems that allow for large-scale production of certain vaccines. There is work to do in forecasting and having the technology that allows that ramp-up.
I also need the G20 to look to ensuring that the vulnerable have access to vaccines and medical care.
We need to ensure that climate funds, which are available, flow to the vulnerable. The focus on health and climate change, so cleverly articulated in the Paris declaration, has not yet been realised. But there will be a softer landing in some areas because people now understand more about climate change and health.