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Jamaica’s Minister of Health & Wellness, Dr. the Hon. Christopher Tufton has called for greater efforts to address equality of access to essential medicines and health technologies, even as countries the world over pursue efforts to rein in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking Monday at the 59th PAHO Directing Council Meeting, for which Jamaica is chair, the Minister said it was vital that “going forward”, countries commit to building a more robust health care system that addresses this access and which is also capable of addressing sustainable health financing and with greater emphasis on primary health care.

He also called for more collaboration around human resource training, support, and recognition; addressing the persistent scourge of Non-communicable Diseases that make populations more vulnerable to man-made and natural disasters; and building the capacity for emergency response to disasters and emerging and re-emerging diseases that have become a re-occurring challenge for countries in the region of the Americas and in particular small-island developing states.

The Minister’s statements, delivered at the opening ceremony of the Council, come against the background of sobering World Health Organisation data which shows that up to September 17, 2021, there were more than 226 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and over 4.5 million deaths globally.

“On both accounts,” the Minister said, “the Region of the Americas has the highest numbers, with over 87 million reported cases of COVID-19 and more than 2 million deaths. Five countries in our region have ranked in the top 10 for cumulative deaths globally.”

Equality in the response to the pandemic, he insisted, must be kept top of mind.

“One salient aspect of this pandemic is that its impact has not been equal across countries, in terms of cumulative cases and deaths, and broader socio-economic effects. Although inequality has always been a defining feature of the global economic order, COVID-19 has sharpened inequalities, raising critical questions – as we move towards COVID-19 recovery – about the role of multilateralism in addressing shared public health challenges,” the Minister explained.

“Vaccines have become a critical tool for recovery. Yet a disproportionate amount of the over 5 billion doses administered globally has gone to high-income countries. While some countries in our region have vaccinated over 50% of their population, others remain below 3%. More than a third of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are yet to vaccinate 20% of their populations,” he added.

The point was punctuated by Jamaica’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr. Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie when she made an intervention during the proceedings earlier today (September 21).

“The last 18 months have been challenging for Jamaica in finding consistent and reliable supplies of vaccines and other health technologies in order to support our response to the pandemic,” the CMO said.

“In the last few months, it has been the shortages of vaccines as promises for supplies are delayed as larger countries continue to pull and engulf resources. Even more recently, the break in our supply chain for Liquid Oxygen created periods of uncertainty in our hospitals,” she added.
Indeed, the CMO said that the vulnerability of the Region and in particular, the Caribbean sub region is very real.

“It is with these experiences fresh in our minds that we support multi-sectoral action and an increase in regional capacities for the development and production of medicines and other health technologies to improve access and enable consistent and reliable response to the region health priorities,” she maintained.

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