Equitable access key to ensuring health resilience in small island developing states

Mrs. Lou Valdez at Gender Equity Forum

St. John’s, Antigua and Barbuda, 31 May 2024 (PAHO)— Experts from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) this week participated in the 4th Small Island Developing States (SIDS) International Conference, to ensure that health remains front and center of discussions around catalyzing the sustainable development of small island nations.

Underscoring the importance of inclusive health services, “each of us deserves access to quality and timely health services and care, regardless of race or ethnicity, language, birth, economic status, social origin, age, disability, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity,” PAHO Deputy Director, Mary Lou Valdez said, in her remarks at the conference.

Throughout the week, experts from PAHO and the World Health Organization (WHO) engaged in several side events and interactive dialogues that emphasized the critical intersection of health with the other sustainable development goals.

During the dialogue, "By SIDS, for SIDS: Next Decade of Action on noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and Mental Health," co-organized by PAHO, WHO, the government of Antigua and Barbuda, and the Healthy Caribbean Coalition, Sir Molywn Joseph, Minister of Health and the Environment of Antigua and Barbuda stated that addressing NCDs and mental health conditions must be a collective undertaking, not a job for one Ministry or one actor. “It simply cannot be done alone,” he said.

Dialogue, "By SIDS, for SIDS: Next Decade of Action on noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and Mental Health," co-organized by PAHO, WHO, the government of Antigua and Barbuda, and the Healthy Caribbean Coalition.

At the side-event, "Smart Hospital Initiative Addressing Emergencies and Climate Change Resilience: A Blueprint for SIDS," organized by PAHO, participants discussed the importance of enhancing the resilience of healthcare facilities to emergencies and climate change events. The Smart Hospitals initiative focuses on strengthening the structural and operational aspects of hospitals in the region, as well as on the implementation of green technologies that enable health care facilities to continue operation during and after emergencies and disasters.

At the conference, Werner Obermeyer – WHO Director at the United Nations Office in New York, outlined several health-related priorities for leaders, partners and donors to support the strengthening of health systems in SIDS. These include integrating NCD services into primary health care to help reduce the disproportionately high burden of NCDs in SIDS; addressing the health impacts of climate change; and accelerating actions to address challenges related to the training, employment and retention of health care workers in SIDS.

During the week, countries also agreed on the “Antigua and Barbuda Agenda for SIDS.” This outlines a strategic plan for the region, to be implemented over the next ten years, to ensure the sustainable development of SIDS. The plan focuses on addressing a variety of health issues, including maternal health, moving towards universal health coverage, addressing the high burden of NCDs, improving nutrition and food security, and tackling climate-sensitive diseases, among other issues.

Reiterating the commitment of PAHO and WHO to supporting health resilience and equitable access to health for SIDS, the PAHO Deputy Director emphasized that if countries are to deliver on the agenda, ensuring sustainable financing for health, beyond times of crisis, will be key.

“To ensure a successful decade of action ‘for SIDS and by SIDS’, we must all step up and strengthen the region’s health systems to achieve universal health coverage with primary health care at its core,” Valdez said.