PAHO Barbados Office Hosts In-House Practicum for UWI Postgraduate Health Policy and Health Systems Students

UWI Students, PAHO Heads of office and tutors at the PAHO Barbados Office
Brian Elcock (UWI, Cave Hill, Barbados)

Bridgetown, June 28, 2024, (PAHO/WHO) – Six students from across the Caribbean last week participated in an intensive practicum at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) office in Barbados as the final element of the inaugural two-year University of the West Indies (UWI) Postgraduate Diploma in Health Policy and Health Systems.

The program which began in September 2022, was designed to train persons who seek expertise in creating health policy and organizing health systems.  PAHO lent collaborative expertise, to the development of courses in the novel academic programme and facilitated the one-week internship opportunity to afford the students practical experience in the specialised field and to understand the organisation’s role.  The students are Vincentian Gillian Little, a registered nurse based in Barbados; Barbadian, Keisha Small- Gittens, a registered pharmacist; Nikisha Hazel, a registered nurse and midwife from St Kitts and Nevis; Shemeka Williams, a registered pharmacist from Grenada; Vonetta Nurse, a Guyanese nutrition officer who works in Jamaica; and Trinidadian Megueal Julien, a public health consultant, based in Jamaica.

Acting Dean of the Faculty of Medical Sciences, Dr. Nkemcho Ojeh, described the collaboration with PAHO as one that continues to be transformative within the local and regional health care system. “We recognize that our public health research addressing health care systems can be further enhanced to be more impactful at the policy and practice levels.  Often, we face challenges due to poor policy implementation. Therefore, the practicum exposures in this joint UWI-PAHO programme are crucial in addressing these issues and providing our students with valuable hands-on experience,” Dr Ojeh emphasised.

Co-coordinator and Lecturer in Public Health & Epidemiology, Faculty of Medical Sciences, UWI, Cave Hill Campus, Dr Heather Harewood, echoed this sentiment noting that this training contributes towards building a network of people who are highly trained in this field across the Caribbean, and this will augur well for our future and the healthcare system.

Reflecting on the groundwork that resulted in the roll-out of the courses while based in the Caribbean office, Dr Benjamin Puertas thanked the partners at UWI for their dedication and perseverance even during the pandemic to ensure its roll-out. “If you look at the coursework before COVID-19, we were talking about health governance, leadership in public health, human resources for health management, health services, medicines and technology, and health financing. It's like we were already talking in a post-pandemic era, because these are priorities that came even stronger after the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr Puertas outlined.

Deputy Principal at the UWI Cave Hill Campus, Dr Winston Moore, also noted that the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted critical deficiencies in health systems, revealing areas in dire need of improvement in both infrastructure and policy. “The UWI Post graduate certificate and diploma in health policy and health systems programs were meticulously designed to provide essential training opportunities to bolster our health systems and meet our human resource goals.  They are linked perfectly with the Caribbean Road map on human resources for universal health which underscores the necessity to better align programs with the needs of the health care system,” he underlined.

One student, Nikisha Hazel described the course as a valuable experience and encouraged others to consider the course, noting “the relevance of this program as it helps to align health professionals with the required skills needed to respond to the ever-evolving healthcare system within the region.” She also challenged them to “be resilient and persistent in pursuing knowledge and excellence as a region” to positively shape the future of health.

A trained workforce is essential to advance towards universal health, as clearly set out in the PAHO Workforce 2030 Policy, and the Caribbean Human Resources for Health (HRH) Roadmap, noted Subregional Program Director of the PAHO Caribbean Subregional Office, Dean Chambliss. “The in-person component of the practicum for the first Cohort of the postgraduate program is fitting squarely into this broad push for improved HRH in the Caribbean.  It is a significant milestone in the training of future health leaders by the Caribbean for the Caribbean…  It is my hope that we sustain this program over the years and add several more cohorts to this grouping,” Mr Chambliss emphasised.

Director of Human Development at the CARICOM Secretariat, Helen Royer, noted that the realisation of Universal Health Coverage and Health for all requires strong and resilient health systems that are staffed by a well-prepared healthcare workforce. She however added: “Equally strong health policies are required to ensure the effective governance and functioning of these systems, as well as the training and retention of motivated health resources for health (HRH). Therefore, policy development and health systems strengthening go hand in hand.”

Meanwhile, PAHO/WHO Representative for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Countries, Dr Amalia Del Riego, pointed out that from inception, PAHO has been dedicated to improving and protecting the health of the people in the Americas – always working for health equity.  “Health policy is the backbone of an effective healthcare system. It shapes how resources are allocated, influences the accessibility and quality of care, and ensures that public health initiatives are aligned with the needs of our populations,” Dr Amalia stressed.

The students and participants also heard the contents of the Draft Policy Brief on Migration and Mobility of Health Workers in the Caribbean presented by Dr Edwin Bolastig. For more information on the Health Policy and Health Systems Postgraduate Diploma/Certificate please visit