Bridgetown, Barbados 16 December 2022 (PAHO/WHO) -The Human Resource for Health (HRH) Commission was recently launched as a collaborative effort between The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO/WHO) and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). This follows a decision made by the 43rd Council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD) meeting, which mandated the establishment of a permanent Commission on Human Resources for Health in the Caribbean, to build on the successes of its predecessor, the HRH Action Task Force.
Launched on April 20th, 2021, the HRH Action Task Force was mandated to advise and monitor the development of HRH public policy in the Caribbean. This includes deliberating on and addressing critical challenges such as the impact of COVID-19 on the health workforce, shortages in and migration of healthcare workers, training and capacity building and HRH planning and management.
According to Ms Alison Drayton, Assistant Secretary Human and Social Development, CARICOM Secretariat, the COVID-19 pandemic further highlighted the need for addressing these critical concerns.
“Over the years, our health systems have been challenged by mass migration of healthcare professionals, especially nurses to Europe and North America – while this has been established as a long-standing challenge for our region, the impact of COVID-19 on our healthcare systems, further highlighted the importance of retaining healthcare workers at the right levels, and with the right skills, to sustain the continuum of care, so that all Caribbean citizens can enjoy equitable access to quality health care,” Ms. Drayton remarked.
The HRH Action Task Force initially comprised 12 countries and two territories, with representatives from key health institutions. A year and a half later, the delegation successfully expanded to involve 16 Member States, two territories, and eight institutions.
“We are immensely proud of the successes of the HRH Action Task Force” Mr. Dean Chambliss, PAHO/WHO Subregional Programme Director stated. “The Task Force developed two HRH policy briefs and seven policy actions targeted at strengthening HRH in the Caribbean and addressing vaccine hesitancy among healthcare workers; these were met with resounding approval by Ministers of Health.” Mr. Chambliss added.
Policy briefs produced by the Action Task Force include Planning and Forecasting HRH Staffing Needs, Protecting and Supporting HRH, Training and Communication, Rapid Response Mechanisms and other policy actions addressing COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among Caribbean healthcare workers.
According to Dr. E. Benjamin Puertas, Advisor, Human Resources for Health, PAHO/WHO Subregional Programme, the experiences gained with the HRH Action Task Force provided good opportunities for the Caribbean Commission to leverage.
“We have PAHO’s technical support with the HRH unit that will continue to bolster the Commission on a regional level, and CARICOM’s convening power which is very important,” Dr. Puertas said. He explained that other opportunities for the Commission include the implementation in the Caribbean of the US Government and PAHO joint initiative Americas Health Corps as a priority.
Strategies implemented by the Americas Health Corps were presented at the event by Dr. James Fitzgerald, Director, Department of Health Systems and Services, PAHO/WHO. These contain five action pillars, which include the Increased Access and Availability of Qualified Healthcare Workers and Strengthening Virtual Schools in Public Health in the Americas.
The launch concluded with special recognition and appreciation of Dr. Puertas’ work in implementing the HRH Action Task Force and the HRH Caribbean Commission. Dr. Puertas departs the PAHO-WHO Subregional Office in January 2023 to take up a post in PAHO headquarters in Washington, D.C.