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PAHO Director Reflects on Momentous Decade of Championing Universal Health

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PAHO Director reflects on momentous decade
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At the opening of this week’s 30th Pan American Sanitary Conference today, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa F. Etienne acknowledged significant gains in health in the last decade but urged countries to address current challenges, including immunization gaps that have “rolled back nearly three decades of progress on childhood vaccinations in recent years.”

“Over the last decade, I’ve seen countries translate the idea of universal health care into practical policies”, the PAHO Director said, citing how local, regional, and national governments are working together to achieve “our shared agenda for health in the Americas and the Sustainable Development goals.”

PAHO was able to expand technical cooperation to increase health system resilience and disaster preparedness, which “proved instrumental in our responses to Zika, COVID and monkeypox,” Dr. Etienne said.

While collaboration has had real impact in reducing inequality, Dr. Etienne said countries must continue in a spirit of solidary to address current challenges, including falling immunization coverage.

Across the board, vaccination rates for preventable diseases have either stalled or moved backwards, the PAHO Director said, and the region now sees the circulation of diseases that “we had either already eliminated or were once on the verge of surpassing.”

The PAHO Director urged countries to reverse these trends with “unwavering resolve,” as “other diseases like diphtheria and yellow fever are just one outbreak away from becoming regional emergencies.”

The Director also called for greater cooperation towards universal health in the region, since during COVID-19 “the world recognized just how central health is to our societies and to our economies.”

“For 120 years, the Americas have relied on cooperation because we’ve understood that our health, our security and our prosperity are interdependent,” the Director said, referring to PAHO’s creation in 1902 to address a yellow fever emergency.

As we turn to the task of rebuilding from this pandemic, Dr. Etienne said, “we must do more to improve the health of our people by working in partnership.”

“I hope that 10 years from now, we can look at our region as one”, Dr. Etienne said, where countries recognize the ties that link the health of people, planet and animals, and where “digital technologies enhance disease monitoring, improve the patient experience and encourage informed decision-making in all of our Member States.”

The 30th Pan American Sanitary Conference, held from 26-30 September 2022, brings together high-level dignitaries and health authorities from countries in the Americas to deliberate on policies to strengthen health.

During the week, delegates will discuss ongoing health emergencies, including COVID-19 and monkeypox, and review policies and strategies to strengthen the region’s preparedness for future outbreaks. This includes, among others, regional action to improve genomic surveillance, develop resilient health workforces and enhance regulatory systems to facilitate the manufacturing of health technologies, such as vaccines. Other issues, such as the growing burden of mental health disorders, access to primary care and tackling non-communicable diseases, will also be addressed.

The Pan American Sanitary Conference is the Organization’s highest decision-making body, meeting every five years to determine policies to improve the health and well-being of the population in the region.

During this year’s Conference, Member and Participating States will elect the next PAHO Director, who will take office on 1 February 2023 and lead the Organization for the next five years.



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St. Lucia

China and Cuba Pursuing a New Global Human Order

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Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

The current international order is at a crossroads and socialist countries in the developing world are working hand-in-hand and hand-in-glove with other nations outside their political and ideological orbit, to push for achievement of a goal promoted by the Caribbean decades ago: a New Global Human Order (NGHO) to pursue development of a multi-polar world, as proposed by Guyana’s President Dr Cheddi Jagan at the closing of the 20th Century and later adopted by the United Nations (UN) at the start of the 21st century.

And this aim was (again) of the underlying basis for the latest exchange between the top leaders of China and Cuba – the former with the world’s biggest communist party and the biggest developing country and the latter with the Caribbean’s biggest communist party and the only socialist country in the Western Hemisphere.

The November 23 meeting in Beijing between Presidents and Party Leaders Xi Jinping and Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez was followed by an 18-point joint statement on deepening China-Cuba relations in the new era, the two nations and parties mutually supporting each other’s respective positions on key global issues.

Cuba reiterated its firm position of “unconditionally abiding by the One China principle” and that Havana “firmly opposes any attempt to use the Taiwan question to interfere in China’s internal affairs.”

China reiterated its firm support for the Cuban people “in their just struggle to defend national sovereignty and oppose external interference and blockades” and for “ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba.”

According to Cuban news agency Prensa Latina, President Diaz-Canel was accompanied by several senior officials, including Deputy Prime Ministers Ricardo Cabrisas and Alejandro Gil, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment Minister Rodrigo Malmierca and Energy and Mines Minister Vicente de la O.

The Cuban leader’s visit came amid several to Beijing of late by leaders from other socialist countries, deepening exchanges in theory and practice, cooperation and mutual support, including by General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Central Committee Nguyen Phu Trong and President of Laos Thongloun Sisoulith.

The Cuban leader was the first Latin American and Caribbean Head of State received by China since the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in October, which, according to President Xi, “fully demonstrates the special friendship between the two countries and parties.”
He noted that “Cuba is the first country in the Western Hemisphere that established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China” and “Our ties have become an example of solidarity and cooperation between socialist countries, as well as an example of sincere mutual assistance between developing countries.”

Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations at the China Foreign Affairs University, told Global Times the “special friendship” mentioned by President Xi was “embodied in the long-term friendship of the two socialist countries since they established diplomatic ties.”

He added, “The two sides enjoy a friendship forged by the older generation of leaders, which has become a precious legacy of the two countries that should be cherished and consolidated.”

Han Han, Secretary General of the Center for the Cuba Studies Institute of Latin American Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Science, told Global Times, “China and Cuba have always maintained frequent and consistent bilateral exchanges between the leaders and the two ruling parties,” which is “key to promoting China-Cuba ties, as well as ensuring policy coherence and smooth implementation of pragmatic cooperation under the BRI.”

She added that “Cuba is a bellwether country in Latin America and the spiritual vanguard of the left,” and “is a model of independence and self-reliance in Latin America.”

To date, about two-thirds of Latin American countries have elected leftist governments and strengthening ties with China (the latest being Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Colombia in 2021), which has also allowed them to make strategic choices and boost their independence and confidence as developing nations.

“China-Latin America economic and trade cooperation has overcome the adverse impact of the pandemic, showing strong resilience and development momentum,” says Shu Jueting, spokesperson from China’s Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM).

Wang Youming, Director of the Institute of Developing Countries at the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing, says “China’s cooperation with Latin America is based on mutual respect and benefit that local people welcome, and does not target any third party.”

Han says, “Energy prices have continued to rise with increasing global demand, posing a great challenge to Caribbean countries like Cuba that depend greatly on external energy supplies.”

She also says, “Improving energy supplies, building power plants and more infrastructure are crucial for Cuba to realize its development goals, and in these fields, China and Cuba could strengthen their win-win cooperation.”

Naturally, little of this has made news headlines in the mainstream international media, which has instead been concentrating on presenting the election of President Xi Jinping as General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) for a third consecutive time as some sort of mortal sin crying to the heavens for vengeance and China’s successful COVID-19 policy as punishment instead of precaution.
Earlier this week, lives lost in an unfortunate apartment building fire was somehow blamed externally on Beijing’s Zero-COVID policy, while the foreign press gave maximum coverage to minor skirmishes between police and small groups of protesters.

Then came news of the death of ex-President Jiang Zemin at 96, with the usual suspects in the foreign press openly engaging in wishful thinking, including that his death would influence a widening of the “rare protests” into a political campaign to force President Xi to step down, the CPC to step back – and both to relinquish the offices they were elected to.

But none of that is likely, as China and Cuba instead opt to work closer together to build new bridges of friendship between Beijing and Havana, in pursuit of a new global human order for the benefit of all.



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St. Lucia

Higher cost of living demands competent governments

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By Sir Ronald Sanders

(The writer is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the United States of America and the Organization of American States.   He is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London and Massey College in the University of Toronto)

Throughout the world, people and their governments and Central Banks are worrying about inflation, or the rate of increase in the cost of living.  In many countries, this concern about the cost of living has become a prime consideration in general elections because electorates want competent governments in whose hands they commit their expectations.

Two questions arise: what is responsible for the cost of living, and can governments in small, developing countries, such as those in the Caribbean, take actions that would address the issue satisfactorily?

In the mid-term elections in the United States of America (U.S.) last month, inflation (roughly translated as ‘the Economy’) was an issue that surfaced in early campaigning, although it waned toward the end.   The main concern in the U.S. was the high cost of oil that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the consequent efforts in Europe and North America to boycott Russian oil, or at least to minimize dependence on it.

The refusal of the big oil producing countries to increase their output to compensate for shortages created by the isolation of Russia, increased oil prices globally.  In turn, this caused the Biden administration in the U.S. to release oil supplies from its strategic stock, reducing gasoline and diesel prices.  Because of Biden’s action, by the time the mid-term elections were held, the value of this issue, in political terms, dropped to 38% amongst the electorate.

However, the oil issue persisted in Europe which had developed a dependence on Russian oil and gas.  Europe will barely manage to keep prices down this winter only because European nations will utilize Russian supplies that they had stockpiled prior to the Russian war on Ukraine.

Both for the US and Europe, heating and its attendant costs to consumers will be a problem this winter.  But next year will be worse if the isolation of Russian oil and gas from the world market continues.  Stocks will be depleted if not exhausted, causing prices to soar.

All this could cause serious social unrest in Europe.  There have already been protests in Greece, Belgium, Germany, France, Spain, Austria and the Czech Republic – the latter of which has seen household energy bills surge tenfold.

The world is also still experiencing the residual impact of the COVID-19 pandemic that severely disrupted supply chains for food, medicines, and commodities for construction and agriculture.  Costs of construction material increased by as much as 90% since the start of the pandemic.

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries, particularly the six smaller nations that comprise the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), have little control over the cost of living being experienced in their respective countries.   As the Governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB), Timothy Antoine, put it in July, “We import inflation, principally from the US and also from Europe our major trading partners”.

In the specific case of The Bahamas, largely because of geographic proximity, it conducts 85% of its trade with the U.S., importing almost $3 billion in goods in 2021 and giving the U.S. a balance of trade surplus of $2.5 billion.   Therefore, the Bahamas is very vulnerable to the impact of inflation in the U.S.

As small states, with limited capacity for the production of goods, Caribbean countries import from the U.S. and Europe, bringing to their shores the high costs in those countries.  Belize, Guyana and Suriname have some capacity to dull the impact of importing agricultural products because they are less reliant on such imports due to their relatively larger agricultural sectors.  But even these three states still confront both the shortages and high prices for agricultural inputs, such as urea and ammonia.

In a sentence, the current rise in the cost of living is not due to policies of Caribbean governments; it is caused by external factors beyond the control of governments.

To be fair, all Caribbean governments, to one extent or another, have taken steps to cushion the effects of inflation on their populations, especially the poor and vulnerable.   Many governments have introduced measures to subsidise the prices of basic foods.  In the case of Antigua and Barbuda and St Lucia, for instance, the governments subsidise the costs of oil and gas.  Furthermore, in Antigua and Barbuda, the government has written off arrears owed for electricity, water and property taxes, as further measures to ease the impact of imported inflation on the population.

A major consequence of these actions is that government revenues are diminishing, and their ability to service the demands of every sector of their society is considerably strained.

As is presently happening in Antigua and Barbuda and in Guyana, Caribbean governments will also have to increase wages and salaries, including the minimum wage, so that the general population can cope with increased prices.  Overall, this will lead to higher per capita incomes, resulting in disqualification by international financial institutions from access to low-cost borrowing, precisely when Caribbean countries need it most.

In Antigua and Barbuda, the Government and the private sector managed to agree on an increased minimum wage, recognizing that cost of living increases had to be met to maintain social and economic stability.

The big question that remains for the region is: when will the global economic disruption caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and consequent retaliation by the US, Canada and the European Union end?  Right now, it looks set to drag on into next year.

Caribbean countries, therefore, should be working feverishly to implement the many plans, which they have agreed to increase trade in goods and services among themselves; to establish joint ventures for the manufacturing and agricultural production; and for air and sea transportation.   They also must enhance the Caribbean Development Bank and consider new ways of investing Caribbean savings and profits by investing them within the region, rather than abroad.

In other words, the Caribbean must become more self-sufficient and less vulnerable to external factors.

Responses and previous commentaries: www.sirronaldsanders.com



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St. Lucia

Don’t Worry About It — Matthew 6:25-34

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It was a long day at work, and I was eager to go to a sports equipment store to buy a new pair of work boots when I realized that I didn’t have my wallet. I quickly contacted my co-worker and asked if I had left it in the vehicle that he and I rode in; he confirmed that it wasn’t there. After diligently searching, I concluded that I had lost my wallet. Within the next twenty-four hours I experienced anxiety from the mere thought of having to go through the process of requesting new bank and identification cards. While relaxing on a hydrotherapy bed after a workout at the gym the idea came to me to call the restaurant my co-worker and I ate at for lunch. I called immediately and learned that my wallet had been recovered and was waiting for me at the restaurant.

In Matthew 6:31-34 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

The message is clear, when confronted with the many uncertainties of life, don’t worry about it! Even though, according to Yahoo News:  “…food shortages will likely continue in 2023”. From the same source: “Two terms – climate change and global warming – point to the same existential threat: Global temperatures have risen dramatically in about the past 150 years and scientists say they’re on pace to radically alter life on Earth in coming decades” and VOAnews.com reports: “The outlook for the global economy headed into 2023 has soured, according to a number of recent analyses, as the ongoing war in Ukraine continues to strain trade, particularly in Europe, and as markets await a fuller reopening of the Chinese economy following months of disruptive COVID-19 lockdowns.”

To worry means to give way to anxiety or unease and to allow one’s mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles. Since loving the Lord with all our minds is the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37) we can conclude that it is a sin to worry. Hebrews chapter eleven and verse six states: “But without faith it is impossible to [walk with God and] please Him, for whoever comes [near] to God must [necessarily] believe that God exists and that He rewards those who [earnestly and diligently] seek Him.” It is impossible for us to exercise trust (faith) in God while at the same time worrying about the problem(s) before us. How can we meditate on the Problem Solver while at the same time be emotionally consumed by the problem itself? “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” was the admonition of John the Baptist in John 1:29. It is only by beholding the love, wisdom and power of the Son of God that we are transformed into His image. What then does the effect of beholding anxiety causing thoughts have on us?

WebMD.com provides us with an answer to the above question: “Chronic worrying can affect your daily life so much that it may interfere with your appetite, lifestyle habits, relationships, sleep, and job performance. Many people who worry excessively are so anxiety-ridden that they seek relief in harmful lifestyle habits such as overeating, cigarette smoking, or using alcohol and drugs. Chronic worry and emotional stress can trigger a host of health problems…The fight or flight response causes the body’s sympathetic nervous system to release stress hormones such as cortisol. These hormones can boost blood sugar levels and triglycerides (blood fats) that can be used by the body for fuel. The hormones also cause physical reactions such as: difficulty swallowing, dizziness, dry mouth, fast heartbeat and fatigue. When we choose to worry about how and when our needs will be met, and our problems will be solved we invite a host of illnesses that make it difficult for us to glorify God in our minds and bodies.”

In conclusion, let’s remember that our Creator delights in being our Sustainer. The book The Desire of Ages 330.1 encourages us with the words: “Worry is blind and cannot discern the future; but Jesus sees the end from the beginning. In every difficulty He has His way prepared to bring relief. Our heavenly Father has a thousand ways to provide for us, of which we know nothing. Those who accept the one principle of making the service and honour of God supreme will find perplexities vanish, and a plain path before their feet….” DOA 330.1 And Isaiah chapter twenty-six and verse three declares: “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.”  The lesson for us to learn during these trying times is the discipline of resting in the care of the living God. Today’s troubles are the tools used to help us learn this lesson. Now, sing with me the words from the late Bob Marley: “Don’t worry about a thing, cause every little thing is gonna be alright!”



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