Sheena Warner-Edwards, HCC Communications Officer shares her experience of the CARPHA Health Research Virtual Conference 2021.
The CARPHA Opening Ceremony got on the way just after 1:20 PM with a fresh welcome by the beautiful Dr. Terri-Karelle Reid, the Opening Ceremony Moderator. Welcome to the 65th Annual Health Research Conference, 16 – 19 June, 2021.
Dr. Joy St. John
Executive Director CARPHA
On behalf of the Conference Planning Committee, I warmly welcome you to the first virtual CARPHA Annual Health Research Conference.
The conference theme “Pandemic, NCDs, and Climate Change: the Caribbean’s Triple Threat”, has been carefully chosen to highlight the challenges with respect to COVID-19, the high levels of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs )within our societies, and the devastating impacts and implications of climate change on public health.
We have an exciting program lined up for this conference, which will allow delegates to exchange ideas, extend their networks, and jointly explore current and future research directions.
We would like to thank all of the participants for their contributions which are the foundation of this conference, the exhibitors, and the Agence Française de Développement (AFD) for their Platinum Sponsorship. We hope that you will have a productive and fun‐filled time at this very special conference.
Mr. Philippe La Cognata
Regional Director for the Atlantic Region Agence Française de Développement
In a context of global warming worldwide, pandemics are multiplying, sparing no nation. The Caribbean is a particularly vulnerable region and has been hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis and its economic and social impacts. The 65th edition of CARPHA’s annual Health Research Conference, to be held June 16-19, 2021, is a unique opportunity to bring regional and international researchers, students and health professionals to the table. Discussions around the Caribbean region’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and on diseases highly prevalent in the region such as diabetes, cancers, aging, adolescent health, and mosquito-borne diseases promise to be enriching. They will allow the dissemination of new regional advances in the health sector.
Today, the partnership between CARPHA and the French Development Agency (AFD) has never been more relevant. It facilitates scientific exchange and engagement between CARPHA member states and France, particularly the overseas territories of the Atlantic basin. We are proud to be an official sponsor of this conference, which will bring together a variety of high-level speakers who will contribute to the debates with their expertise and feedback.
Enjoy the conference!
On registering for the very first virtual conference, delegates were provided with their unique personal log-in information. A click into the virtual space landed you in the virtual carpark, which was adorned by the CARICOM flags blowing in the wind to the left of the carpark. Delegates were further guided into the lobby, where they were met by the steelpan rendition of “Dear Promoter” – you felt as though you arrived in the twin islands of Trinidad and Tobago. Delegates were encouraged to download the conference App, retrieve the conference programme through a clickable poster, visit the Virtual Booths in the Exhibit Hall, Virtual Poster Presentations in the Poster Hall, virtual chat with other like-minds in the lounge and Collect their Swag Bags which contained information about CARPHA and the conference proceedings. In the Lobby, an Information Board stood with colour-coded highlights of the proceedings of the conference including Feature Lectures, The Key Note Address, links to areas of work produced by CARPHA including Vaccine Hesitancy Clinton Foundation, Diabetes Clinical Guidelines accessed here, Tourism and Health accessed here, Caribbean Mosquito Awareness accessed here; and to the Awards Ceremony and Opening Ceremony. I was on my way to attend the Opening Ceremony. Prominently placed were two key areas of interest: Kids Can Cook Too and Caribbean Wellness Day.
Kids Can Cook Too accessed here, is a collaborative tool developed by the World Diabetes Foundation and CARPHA as a direct response to the increase in overweight and obesity in children in the Caribbean. This supportive tool was developed to assist busy parents in maintaining healthy eating behaviours of their children. Recipes for inclusion into the book were those chosen from the World Diabetes Foundation project “Reversing the Rise in Childhood Obesity” completed between 2017 – 2020 in Grenada and St. Lucia. Parents submitted recipes which were selected via a competition.
The Opening Ceremony was housed in the virtual Auditorium.
Dr. Joy St. John, Executive Director, CARPHA. After the establishment of protocol and delivering the formal warm Caribbean greetings, Dr. St. John highlighted that in its 65th year of the annual conference, with no retirement in its near future, CARPHA will continue to celebrate Caribbean excellence in research. Young and old researchers from distance lands have been brought together under the umbrella of Pandemic, NCDs and Climate Change: The Caribbean’s Triple Threat, the theme of this year’s event. Sighting the impact the current pandemic would have on us not reaching the Global NCD targets, she hoped some of the findings revealed information which will allow us to get back on track. She closed with an applaud to all delegates, researchers, presenters, sponsors and the planning team.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General, WHO delivered a Message to the Delegates from Geneva, thanking the Director of CARPHA for his inclusion. He began by emphasizing that COVID-19, NCDs and Climate Change demanded evidence-based guidance to assist in the management and control and prevention efforts of these public health threats. He noted that low revenues from tourism plagued the Caribbean but what the Caribbean had was a central research arm which is key in addressing all of these changes. He stated that the CARPHA conference preceded the SIDS Summit for Health where Heads of state and government and other delegates will meet to discuss common solutions to common threats to which such research is welcomed. He professed that the high quality research translated into good policy and governance could allow us to build a healthy and more sustainable future.
Emeritus Professor David Picou, Experimental Medicine, UWI and First Director of Research, Caribbean Health Research Council delivered remarks detailing the history, which led to the development of the Caribbean Health Research Council (CHRC). He noted that training Doctors in basic research skills throughout the Caribbean using a manuel written by Dr. Donald Simeon led to the emergence of CARPHA which was legally established in July 2011, all developed from a research culture and built on 32 research papers.
Mr Philippe La Cognata, Regional Director for the Atlantic Region, Agence Francaise de Developpement delivered his remarks in French, he congratulated the Caribbean region on its management of the COVID-19 pandemic.
His Excellency Serge Lavroff, Ambassador of France to Port of Spain also delivered his remarks in French. The speakers continued to echo the importance of taking the research which has been produced over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic period 2020-2021 and marry it to the lessons learned, to chart the way forward for the Caribbean post-pandemic. They also spoke highly of the partnerships which continue to be upheld during the management of the pandemic to which CARPHA has played an integral role.
Dr. Joy St. John was re-invited to officially declare the CARPHA conference open! The official Opening ceremony closed with a riveting video showcasing the countries tourism sectors, taking us across the seas touching the landscape of various West Indian countries which have safely remained open or re-opened.
The Moderator, Dr. Reid then passed the ball to Professor M. Thame, Chairperson of the Scientific sessions, which we were encouraged to cover on the first day of the CARPHA Conference. This included the Key Note Address followed by a Panel Discussion. At this point Dr. St. John returned with her Key Note Address: The Caribbean’s COVID-19 Response
Dr. Joy St. John, Director, CARPHA- Research Innings: COVID-19 vs the Caribbean
In her address, she indicated that on January 4th, 2020 CARPHA was alerted to the developments of COVID-19. Member states accepted public health measures shared by CARPHA including the importance of areas such as contact tracing. She reported that CARPHA became a communication hub and the CARICOM Secretariat welcomed CARPHAs input into political mandates and guidance and encouraged its collaboration with multiple sectors including tourism. This was buttressed by the already functioning Regional Coordinating Network (RCN), which allowed CARPHA to maximize few resources and minimize gaps to save lives and livelihoods that crippled many nations. She noted, that the health of CARICOM nationals remained a number 1 priority and the political choice. She also highlighted significant milestones including the Region’s ability to quickly test for SARs-CO2 virus; to which PAHO was a strategic partner in ensuring that this could occur. She shared that CARPHA also devised a formula, which was useful in devising vaccine allocation across member states. CARPHA will produce a Report covering the record of actions and products of relevance. She ended with a famous quote “The Health of the Region is the Wealth of the Region”.
Opening Session presentations included
- Major Depressive Disorder and Medication Adherence: A study of People Living with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus in Barbados. C Catwell
- Acceptance and Compliance with Waist-Worn Physical Activity Monitors in Jamaican Adolescents: Lessons from the Field. Christie
- A cross-sectional comparison of point-of-care A1CNow+ machine with laboratory HbA1c in detecting diabetes in urban communities, South Trinidad, 2019-2020. K Dharamraj
- Understanding the experience of key stakeholders regarding the government’s sugar-sweetened beverages ban in Tobago’s high schools: A qualitative approach. SA Dick, S Whiteman, S Hassan, M Nunez Smith
COVID-19 Panel Discussion
The panel discussion which seamlessly flowed after the Key Note Address, was Moderated by Dr. Sharon Belmar-George, Chief Medical Officer of Health of St. Lucia. In her Opening Remarks she highlighted that the effects of COVID-19 brought to the forefront the need for coordination and collaboration across the region. The panelists were introduced on an individual basis and made brief summaries highlighting how their organisations assisted in the management of the COVID-19 pandemic before they were opened to questions from the Moderator.
Dr. Douglas Slater, Assistant Secretary-General, CARICOM
- “Despite the fact that we are a Caribbean Community, we are not a homogeneous society. Countries have varying protocols for COVID-19 testing, approach of roll-out of vaccines etc. On a positive note, regionalism was observed with the share of sourced vaccines”.
Didicus Jules, Director General of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS)
- Highlighted major global challenges impacting the OECS. He maintained that addressing lifestyle diseases and NCDs with related issues of economic decline and food security which were areas of concern as the pandemic unfolded. The COVID-19 OECS Response Funding stood at $15 Million.
Ms. Elizabeth Riley, Executive Director, CDEMA
- Emphasized the role the George Alleyne Chronic Disease Research Center played in providing critical statistics at the finger tips to inform decision-making. This research influenced where deployment personnel could be taken from to assist countries in need.
Captain Errington Shurland, Executive Director, Regional Security System (RSS)
- Spoke from a security lens where preparation and response to threats of national security was the prime job of his organisation. He noted that building resilience in the face of a public health crisis was key and it raised the conversation in international for a as to how the regional community can prepare to respond to vulnerabilities.
Lt. Colonel Michael Jones, Executive Director, CARICOM IMPACS
- By using the french forces aircraft (RSS), they were able to deliver PPE to several countries within record time including Belize and Bahamas. They also were able to address concerns at various prisons during the pandemic.
CARPHA Conference webpage.
CARPHA Conference Highlights.