Speech By Minister Luke Browne At The 71st World Health Assembly

Mr. President, Mr. Director General and Fellow Delegates of this World Health Assembly – warm greetings from St. Vincent and the Grenadines. We believe that the theme for this general discussion was well selected – “Health for All: Commit to Universal Health Coverage.” Please be assured that St. Vincent and the Grenadines is fully committed to this powerful concept which is actually the cornerstone of our public policy on health.

I remember that last year Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus]made the point in his campaign speech before this Assembly that in one country a person who needs dialysis may be able to live a fairly normal life, while in another country to be diagnosed with kidney failure is tantamount to being handed a death sentence.

I have the honour to report that in St. Vincent and the Grenadines the government is now poised to offer comprehensive dialysis services to the public for the first time. This will be done at a brand new and soon to be opened Diagnostic and Treatment Centre in a rural part of our country. We built it with help from the Republic of Cuba.

In our situation, the coming on stream of this Centre will be a major breakthrough for Universal Health Coverage and “Health for All.” In recent times, our efforts to bring about universal health coverage have concentrated somewhat on building or upgrading the healthcare infrastructure in our country. One point of focus is to make sure that our health facilities are SMART meaning safe, green and climate resilient.

Mr. President,

Beyond the buildings, we would like to reform or re-organise our healthcare system to make it better reflect the sage advice “prevention is better than cure.” Our ambition is to bring about a renewal of primary healthcare and thereby take health closer to the communities. We have the highest regard for equity.

Our philosophy of healthcare is one that emphasises the rights of patients and this finds expression in a Patients Charter to be unveiled. SVG is in the unusual position of having a surplus of trained nurses who can be deployed to the service of other nations. We are setting up a medical marijuana industry following the example of countries like Canada.

Mr. President,

Last year, the Caribbean was hit hard by several hurricanes of unprecedented strength. One case in point is Hurricane Maria which thoroughly devastated Dominica with implications for health and development. This exposed the utter vulnerability of our region to extreme weather events. Climate Change has been linked to increased frequency and severity of hurricanes.

Global Warming can lead to a greater geographical range for mosquitoes and accentuate the already difficult problem of vector borne diseases. These matters constitute existential threats for us that we cannot afford to take lightly. We therefore welcome the WHO’s Special Initiative on Climate Change and Health in Small Island Developing States.

The upcoming United Nations High Level Meeting on NCDs presents an opportunity for us to re-commit ourselves to taking decisive action against the plague of these diseases which are responsible for the vast majority of premature deaths.

 In St. Vincent and the Grenadines, we set up a broad-based Health and Wellness Commission in part to help with our fight against them. We are promoting physical activity in our schools and communities through a number of initiatives working in close collaboration with several organisations one of which is simply called “Be Fit.” Taiwan is helping us build capacity for the prevention and control of diabetes through a flagship project.

On that note, Mr. President, please permit me to say that St. Vincent and the Grenadines supports the call for Taiwan to be allowed to participate in the World Health Assembly. The absence of Taiwan from this forum is an unfortunate result of cross-strait politics that should have no bearing on matters of health.

We wish that the relevant parties will make every effort to peacefully resolve this deeply contentious matter with regard for the principle of inclusion for the sake of the health and welfare of humanity. This is the humble request of a small Caribbean nation which maintains respect for all sides.

Mr. President,

The WHO has been a force for good over the past 70 years, and we plan to work ever more closely with it in the pursuit of “Health for All.”  Thank you.

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