Achieving universal health coverage
Access to safe, effective, affordable, and quality medicines and medical technologies is one of the building blocks for strengthening primary health care (PHC)-based health systems to achieve universal health coverage (UHC). Regulatory authorities play a crucial role in protecting the public’s health by ensuring high standards for medical products. They also influence affordability through the assessment of generic medicines and biosimilars for market authorization.
“Caribbean countries have struggled to build the necessary regulatory capacity for medicines and health technologies as they are small states with small markets for such products. This means that, on the one hand, there are smaller commercial incentives for manufacturers to operate, so the market is dominated by intermediaries that are not sufficiently experienced to address regulatory demands. On the other hand, small populations also means limited availability of human and financial resources that can be dedicated to the regulatory system,” said Dean Chambliss, PAHO/WHO Subregional Programme Director for the Caribbean.
PAHO/WHO, through the UHC Partnership, has been working with the Caribbean Public Health Agency and countries in the region to support the development and strengthening of the Caribbean Regulatory System (CRS). The CRS, which provides a single entry into the Caribbean, recommended its first product in April 2017 and has since recommended over 200 products for use in Caribbean countries. The Caribbean Public Health Agency/CRS is a reliance based regulatory system that serves CARICOM Member States and was established in 2015 with continuous support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other donors.
PAHO/WHO is providing technical support to the Ministry of Health and Wellness of The Bahamas, in its collaboration with the CRS to establish a fast approval pathway for all recommended products. The Ministry also received assistance in creating a policy document regarding the registration and importation of COVID-19 vaccines into the country. When COVID-19 vaccines became available, the CRS played a vital role in reviewing and recommending vaccines so countries could approve them quickly.
“The Ministry of Health and Wellness of The Bahamas has been working with the guidance of PAHO/WHO to expedite a process for assessing products, ensuring quality and access to medicines and health technologies for everybody at prices they can afford,” said Eldonna Boisson, PAHO/WHO Representative in The Bahamas.
The Bahamas is among the 115 countries and areas to which the UHC Partnership helps deliver WHO support and technical expertise in advancing UHC through a PHC approach. The Partnership is one of WHO’s largest initiatives on international cooperation for UHC and PHC. It is funded by the European Union, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, Irish Aid, the Government of Japan, the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, the United Kingdom – Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, Belgium, Canada and Germany.