The conference is themed: Managing Development in Caribbean Economies: The Key Role of Health and Social Security, and was chosen in tribute to Professor Emeritus Karl Theodore, the current Director of the university’s Centre for Health Economics, who was being honoured for a lifetime of commitment to work on the economic issues linked to health and development in the Caribbean.
Delivering the feature address at the conference, Etienne said the member countries of the United Nations recently unanimously adopted the Global Sustainable Development Agenda, commonly known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in the process setting a new and ambitious framework for countries to develop and implement policies to improve the social and economic well-being of their citizens. She said there was one goal which was specifically dedicated to health but “we are acutely aware that a concerted effort to achieve the remaining 16 goals will directly and indirectly impact health. We therefore could not and should not isolate our actions solely within the health sector if we are to realise health for all. At the same time therefore, we must continue to advocate for health as one of the principle determinants of sustainable development — development that has people at its centre.” The PAHO Director said the SDG’s in currently and correctly highlighting the health and well-being of a nation’s people, are highly ambitious but ensuring the necessary conditions for their health and well being is critical for the people and economies of the region to ensure continued growth and development. “We must fight social exclusion and we must fight inequity.” She said that development which places people at the centre must guarantee equitable access to all the basic conditions which allow a human being to live a productive and dignified life.
Dr Etienne said she was fully committed to the ideals, principles and values of universal access to health and universal health coverage. “By this I mean that everyone, irrespective of their socio-economic background, their ethnicity, gender or race, is covered by a well-financed, well-organised health system offering quality and comprehensive health services, be they curative, promotive, rehabilitative, or palliative.” She said this meant there should be no barrier to accessing health services, that people should be protected against financial hardships and that no one who needs care should become medically indigent or have to sell their house or their cow or decide not to seek medical care because they cannot afford to pay for it.
“And you know millions of people become indigent every year because they seek care and millions more don’t even make the effort to access care because they cannot afford it. This is an unjust practice. It is an unjust world that continues to perpetuate this situation,” she said. She said regional economies face vulnerabilities over which they sometimes have little control or influence and climate change makes this worse, adding “And I am told we are to expect increasing natural disasters.” She said the Caribbean remains dependent on its natural beauty and the tourists who come to enjoy the region’s beaches, towns and culture and yet the region is prone to natural disasters that can devastate the industry and directly impact its ability to generate such income.