The Need for Regional Health Security
The Caribbean faces health threats which occur as a result of infectious disease outbreaks, natural disasters or man-made events. These are all potential threats to health security, and are amplified by the tourism-dependent nature of the region with over 45 million visitors annually, increasing the risk for importation, and export, of diseases of international concern. Whilst it is impossible to predict what, where, when and how a new threat to public health will appear, it is clear that emerging infectious diseases and public health emergencies will continue to occur.
Globalisation has served to change our world, it has also provided increased opportunities for the emergence and spread of infectious diseases. Factors contributing to disease emergence include: diversity and number of microorganisms; microbial adaptation and evolution; increased international travel and trade; population growth; rapid urbanisation; changes in human demographics and behaviour; climate change; degradation of ecosystems; breakdown of public health measures, and; deficiencies in public health infrastructure. Today’s infectious disease challenges are therefore more complex than previously encountered and require broad, sustained and coordinated efforts from multiple sectors, individuals, groups, public health agencies and other key stakeholders in order to accelerate progress towards regional and global health security.
Weak health systems in many countries in the Caribbean makes responding effectively to the challenges posed difficult. Despite the middle income country status of the majority of CARPHA Member States, the public health systems are characterised by a: shortage of human resources: deficient information systems; under-resourced laboratories; weak institutional and organizational capacity; inadequate health technologies, and; insufficient financial resources for IHR (2005) core capacities implementation. In addition there is lack of real-time surveillance and epidemiological systems, as well as ineffective and fragmented communications networks, and inconsistent collaboration with non-health actors. All of these have a negative impact on the performance of health systems and make the region vulnerable to infectious disease threats, and threaten regional and global health security.
A number of initiatives have been established to strengthen and build Regional Health Security. These include the formation of the Regional Coordinating Mechanism on Health Security (RCMHS), chaired by CARPHA, and the development of the Caribbean Region Global Health Security Agenda Roadmap 2017-2021 in a participatory manner.