University of West Indian-nessBy Professor Nigel E. Harris
(Page 2 of 2)
Perhaps one of the triumphs of recent years has been in the area of collaboration in health, and it is in this context that the “invisible hand” of another Caribbean “giant” Sir George Alleyne, former Director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and current Chancellor of The UWI, has been most influential. In a recent address entitled “Cultivating Caribbean Cultural Regionalism,” Sir George points out that “the Caribbean has a long history of cooperation in health, perhaps longer than in any other area. It has achieved globally recognized success in the elimination of childhood infectious diseases such as poliomyelitis, measles and German measles.” More recently, Caribbean government leaders mobilized themselves to address non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases. In an unprecedented move, the Heads of Government of CARICOM held a Summit in Port of Spain in 2007 to discuss approaches to the control of non-communicable diseases and in 2009, issued a declaration on approaches they would take. That these have not been only declarations are manifest by enactment of heavy tobacco taxes in several countries to reduce tobacco use, a major contributor to cardiovascular disease. Sir Shridath alluded to a time when the Caribbean as a collective assumed global leadership roles in struggles to assert the rights of third world peoples and perhaps this is manifest today in the success of the CARICOM Heads of Government in influencing the United Nations to have a high-level meeting on non-communicable diseases.
However, even in the field of health there have been challenges, manifest particularly by the diminution of the Caribbean Epidemiology Centre (CAREC), which plays a major role in disease surveillance and epidemiology in CARICOM, but which had been withering over the past decade because of lack of resources. These circumstances have changed in the last three years because of a major initiative led by the CARICOM Ministers of Health to merge CAREC with other regional health agencies (CFNI, CHRC, CEHI, CRDTL) to form a Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA). Initial resources have been obtained to launch this enterprise and to provide appropriate facilities. This initiative promises to rebuild regional public health and to expand research and knowledge development in unprecedented ways in the Caribbean – one hopes that this magnificent undertaking will be assured sustainable support from regional governments.
In viewing the state of the regional enterprise, it is important to reflect both on the successes and the shortcomings. The distress felt by Sir Shridath and other thought leaders in the Caribbean is well placed because without political and economic collaboration, our chances of fashioning a more thriving economy and social growth will be stymied. Whatever the gains of functional cooperation, if these sectors are not posited on a platform of economic and social growth, they will surely wither on the vine. Prospects for substantial economic growth in the Caribbean remain elusive, the productive base to foster that growth remains narrow and we are beset by the dark horsemen of social deprivation, insufficient educational attainment, crime and gun violence, and susceptibility to natural hazards. These are not problems that can be solved by tiny “nations and principalities” acting individually in their scattered place in the Caribbean Sea. That there can be successes gained when we act regionally are manifest in the examples alluded to above in the areas of health and education – and we should not give up on cricket. If we are to prevail, there is an absolute need for recommitment by our leaders and by ourselves to a more unified regional enterprise.
The UWI has begun to prepare for its 2012–2017 Strategic Plan. In fashioning that Plan, our leaders have started meeting and discussing how we might forge a path that will better position the University to drive regional integration and regional development – it is a vision in which we shall strive for a community of students, academics and staff committed to a more competitive, sustainable and integrated Caribbean. The creation of a Competitiveness and Innovation Centre, funded by the IDB and launched on March 25, this year, will be one of several initiatives to achieve that vision. The initiation two years ago of an Open Campus that can provide access and intellectual growth to students in countries where campuses do not exist, and in rural areas of countries where campuses exist, is another step taken to forge regional identity and social and economic growth. The future of Caribbean integration can only be successful when regional institutions like UWI, CARICOM, CXC and even West Indies cricket become robust, meaningful instruments that reaffirm our oneness, even as they provide the ingredients for our societies to flourish.