PAHO, Ministries of Health and Partners meet to discuss Health Surveillance for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Countries

Group photo of participants

Bridgetown, Barbados, 14 November 2022 (PAHO/WHO) - Surveillance is a key cornerstone to prevent and control diseases and its importance has been ever so highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

A four-day meeting on Health Surveillance for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Countries was recently held in Barbados, which brought together the Ministries of Health and partners, including the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Caribbean Med Labs Foundation (CMLF), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), to identify synergies, encourage common agendas and avoid duplication of efforts especially vital for small island developing nations (SIDS).

The pandemic wrought a havoc on the health systems and the society in general, but it also brought to fore increased investments, especially in public health laboratories and information systems, incorporation of technology in our daily work and increased the visibility of the health sector in the public in general. The latter has led to an increased attention to health sector from a plethora of donors and partners.

An important learning point from the pandemic was the need to establish and strengthen surveillance of non-communicable diseases along with other risk factors. However, given the structure of Ministries of Health of SIDS and paucity of resources, an integrated approach to surveillance of communicable and non-communicable diseases and risk factors, and environmental determinants is required.

The meeting pursued at its core the need for this integration and methods of implementation that would bring this to happen. A new model to approach comprehensive surveillance guidelines that would focus on roles and responsibilities at various levels was one of the methods identified and a model was proposed – something that the countries welcomed.

Information systems have been a long-standing need for SIDS. The meeting brought to fore discussions on this in many areas including public health surveillance, laboratory information systems, monitoring of environmental determinants, among others. Examples of adoption of technology to simplify work during the COVID-19 pandemic in countries were highlighted, with the setting up of make-shift but well-functioning public health surveillance system based on Google Sheets in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was appreciated by all.

The meeting was attended in-person by over 50 participants from 7 countries and 3 United Kingdom Overseas Territories (UKOTS) including surveillance officers, laboratory heads, vector control staff, NCD and mental health focal points, representatives from partners - USAID, CDC and CARPHA, and PAHO Technical Staff from all levels – headquarters, Caribbean Sub-regional Program, Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Country Office and the Country Program Specialists.

Participants at the meeting