The American Government is working with Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) member states to address health-care worker shortages and migration as part of its plan to strengthen health systems in the region.
According to Loyce Pace, the assistant secretary for global affairs at the US Department for Health and Human Services, part of the US's commitment to strengthening Jamaica's capacity to respond to disease outbreaks and future health threats, and strengthening health systems to ensure quality service delivery and improved health outcomes for Jamaicans, is addressing the health-care worker shortage and migration crisis.
"One way is by really focusing on the health workforce. That means doctors, our physician and nurses — sure — but it also means community health workers, it means lab technicians, it means epidemiologists; the health workforce is broad," Pace told the Jamaica Observer in an interview at the US Embassy in St Andrew ahead of delivering the keynote address at the Caribbean Public Health Agency's 66th annual health research conference in Kingston.
"One of the things the US has done is, our president has talked about the health workforce, as has our vice-president. We have launched a new Global Health Workforce Initiative and there are regional focus areas or pillars that are part of that initiative, including a new effort our secretary of health [Xavier Becerra] launched at the America Summit called the Americas Health Corp," Pace said.
"One idea around that is to work with the Pan American Health Organization [PAHO]as well as member states of PAHO to improve and increase the availability of health workers throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Again, doctors, nurses, other allied health professionals who can really fight the good fight when it comes to global health, if God forbid, we end up in this situation [novel coronavirus pandemic] again," Pace added.
Acknowledging that apart from the need to strengthen the health-care sector with skilled workers, there is an issue with migration of said workers to the US, Pace said a critical pillar of the initiative is retention.
"That's one of the reasons we are trying to increase the quantity of health workers... it's not just about filling that pipeline, we have to be sure they stay there or at least move through the pipeline and make room for others to come in. So, those are the conversations that we're having with PAHO, that we're having with Minister [Christopher] Tufton and others so that we can ensure that we are distributing these critical assets and human resources around the region," Pace said.
Regarding the reports that speak to the World Health Organization's (WHO) response to global emergencies and whether they got it right, Assistant Secretary Pace said, "I think we're still learning. I think we know that there are ways we all could have improved, but those assessments are important and in our conversations with Tedros [Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO], he agrees. The independent panel had some important recommendations, one of which is the establishment of this financial intermediary fund, so we are already acting on some of those proposals, which is a good thing."
She added: "I think we're doing some other really important things through WHO like improving the international health regulations. That is a really critical exercise for us to conduct as member states of WHO, to ensure we are improving our response to any global health emergency and holding all of us accountable should we experience this again."