Saint Lucia’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Sharon Belmar- George and Chief Medical Officers from across the Caribbean were high in praise from the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) for the leadership role they’ve played and continue to play in the Region’s COVID-19 response. This, as CARPHA hosted its first face-to-face meeting, since the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic, two years ago.
23 CMOs (18 in person and 5 virtually), met for two days from April 06 – 07 at the Trinidad Hilton. They collaborated and examined optimal ways of working and responding to the ongoing challenges of COVID-19 and the resultant effects on the health status of the CARICOM. CARPHA’s regional and international development partners were also present at the meeting, with representatives from the US Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) and The United Kingdom Health Security Agency (UKHSA), Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and CARICOM Secretariat.
CARPHA Executive Director, Dr Joy St John acknowledged that “people are experiencing COVID fatigue, which can make it difficult for them to pay attention to any discussion about COVID-19, even if it is one that will protect them from illness”. She explained, “With the relaxation of public health measures, people may feel that the Pandemic is over, and that the need for vaccination is also over”. However, she was quick to add that this is not the case. Dr. St. John then encouraged Member States to exercise vigilance so we can progress safely through this phase of the Pandemic.
In addition, Dr. St. John revealed that CARPHA is currently in discussions with the Clinton Health Access Initiative to assist where there are weakened supply chains for medications, and to support improved access to affordable tests and treatments, including those for COVID-19. She also highlighted CARPHA’s partnership with the Japan-Caricom Friendship and Cooperation Fund and the PAHO/Government of Canada, which will provide necessary funding for public education and health promotion campaigns to counteract misinformation and increase vaccine uptake.
Dr. St. John also informed CMOs of the progress that CARPHA has made in discussions with the United Kingdom Health Security Agency (UKHSA) towards improving its capacity for whole genome sequencing services, both at the CARPHA Medical Microbiology Laboratory and in specific Member States. Other key points of discussion at the meeting included the potential impact of Long Covid on the Region, the need for increased routine surveillance of communicable diseases, and the need for the re-opening of the tourism and education sectors in a safe and sustainable manner.