Opening remarks by Ambassador Odeen Ishmael of Guyana, Chairman of the Latin American and Caribbean Economic System (SELA), at the regional meeting on "Integration and Convergence for Health in Latin America and the Caribbean"
SELA Headquarters, Caracas, Venezuela, 22 July 2010

Posted July 23rd. 2010

Permanent Secretary of SELA, Ambassadors, Members of Delegations, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.

This regional consultation on "Integration and Convergence for Health in Latin America and the Caribbean" is held in the context of the ongoing fight against poverty and social exclusion, which forms the very basis of the political agendas of all the Member States of SELA.

The main objective of this meeting is to assess the progress and the limitations of the commitments taken on by the Latin American and Caribbean countries within the context of the regional integration processes related to the health sector. At the same time, it is expected that representatives of the Member States and the relevant regional and subregional forums working in this area, will share information regarding the experiences gained, best practices and expectations concerning integration and convergence for health in Latin America and the Caribbean.

As we notice today, the advances in new technologies are bringing about changes in the way countries address health development, and also in the solutions being applied to solve health problems and to provide better access to improved health services and medicines for their citizens.

In dealing with these issues, governments in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) have assigned to integration organisations an increasingly important role in developing cooperation programmes aimed at guaranteeing better health for the entire population.

However, the efforts to improve the population's access to health through various programmes supported by regional integration organisations have not achieved the expected results as yet.

But there have been important successes. Among these are the numerous initiatives such as the joint negotiations on prices and purchases of medicines and medical supplies conducted by the sub-regional Ministries of Health with international laboratories.

In this respect, the Caribbean region has also had some experiences with joint purchases of medicines. Actually, Caricom countries were the first grouping to develop a regional approach for the purchase of anti-retroviral drugs to combat HIV/AIDS, a process initiated more than eight years ago.

The main framework document to be presented later today will surely express a more detailed perspective of these ideas and factual information, and will portray a clear picture of the roles of the sub-regional integration organisation in tackling health issues in Latin America and the Caribbean.

I want to use the Chairman's prerogative to mention briefly a specific development regarding health issues in my own country, Guyana. Just recently, a new Country Cooperation Strategy for the health sector in Guyana has been developed by the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) for the next five years, during which significant emphasis will be placed on social issues that affect the health sector, mental health and non-communicable diseases.

The five strategic priorities of the new strategy include strengthening health systems governance, organisation and management based on primary health care approach, and addressing the social and environmental determinants for improved health outcomes. The reduction of the burden caused by diseases will also be addressed along with the enhancement of family and community health, leadership and management.

The strategy takes into account the fact that the vast majority of Guyana's indigenous population live in the hard to reach hinterland areas, and as such, it seeks to tackle issues of equity and social inclusion.

This strategy provides Guyana with important support in an energetic campaign to eliminate tobacco as a substance use in Guyana and to prevent misuse of alcohol. Another area in the social determinants falling under the strategy is the behavioural patterns of people in the areas of reproductive and sexual health, and PAHO will work closely with Guyana in this area as part of its general cooperation with the Ministry of Health.

Further, the strategy will see more cooperation in the field of mental health which will see this issue being accelerated, and will focus on building human capacity for neuro-psychiatric illnesses. Already Guyana has begun working on developing curricula for nurses and doctors to deal with this aspect. A new cadre of specialist doctors with new competencies will also enter the health sector to diagnose and treat neuro-psychiatric illnesses. It is expected that between September and January the new training programmes will begin.

The issue of chronic non-communicable diseases, in terms of disease burden and in terms of mortality, represents the most significant health problems that the country faces. Chronic non-communicable diseases also present a serious obstacle to poverty reduction. This factor will also be dealt with by the health strategy, while a significant focus will be placed on prevention.

I am sure that in the course of this forum, we will hear of similar progressive actions in various member states. At the same time, through the presence of representatives from various regional bodies, and especially the PAHO, we will be able to draw from their experiences in identifying problems and proposing solutions.

It is my pleasure to welcome all of you to this regional consultation.

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