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Thursday 19 May 2011 (CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown, Guyana)    Trinidad and Tobago’s Minister of Health, Senator the Honourable Thérése  Baptiste-Cornelis, has been confirmed  as one of the Vice-Presidents of the 64th  World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland.


Her election follows closely on the heels of Guyana’s election as President three years ago, when Dr the Honourable Leslie Ramsammy, Guyana’s Minister of Health assumed the presidency of the 61st Session of that veritable Assembly which is the decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO).


As one of the five vice presidents of the General Committee of the 64th Assembly for one year, Minister Baptiste-Cornelis, represents the entire region of the Americas including CARICOM Member States, and plays a leading role in setting global health policy on matters that are discussed and agreed upon at the Assembly.


This is the third time a national of Trinidad and Tobago has been elected either as Vice President or President of the WHA. Dr. Emmanuel Hosein was Vice President in 1987 and Mr. Kamaluddin Mohammed was President of the World Health Assembly in 1977.


Her election assumes further significance as the Community prepares itself for the United Nations High Level Meeting on Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases Prevention slated for the UN headquarters in New York in September.


At the 64th World Health Assembly which opened at the Palais de Nations, Geneva, on Tuesday 17 May, Vice President Baptiste-Cornelis, in addressing the plenary session, pointed to what she described as the crisis of NCDs, which have impacted both developed and developing countries in a serious way, and asserted that those diseases must be curtailed with urgency, especially since their impacts were felt more by poor and vulnerable countries.


In the Caribbean, non-communicable diseases are major contributors to overall death and morbidity rates with cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, accounting for nearly half of all deaths of persons under the age of 70, and for two out of three deaths overall in the region. 


The newly elected WHA vice President told the WHA that strategic actions were being implemented by CARICOM under the Port-of-Spain Declaration which was spawned by the first ever Heads of Government Summit on NCDs in the Region. She explained that it was the advocacy which started the Caribbean that had been replicated in other regions of the global health system and has led to the hosting of the High Level Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, on the Prevention and Control of NCDs, this September.


“The CARICOM region is pleased to have spearheaded this recognition of the necessity to develop policies and protocols to ensure the survivability of our world population,” Vice-President Baptiste-Cornelis declared.


She also enumerated the several actions that her country had implemented to stem the tide of Chronic NCDs. These include establishing a National Advisory Committee on NCDs to guide strategic interventions in the area of prevention and control; the ratifying the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and, in 2009, passing the Tobacco Control Act that instituted comprehensive measures to ban smoking in public areas and to limit the marketing and sale of tobacco products, especially to children. Other actions also include public education and research on diabetes and obesity in children and youth as well as initiatives to promote physical activity in school through physical education.


Minister Baptiste-Cornelis acknowledged that significant progress had been made in the fight against NCDs but hastened to add that the real work of mitigation, treatment and management, through the promotion and adoption of healthy lifestyles “is only just beginning.”


“We must individually and collectively, as the international community, remain steadfast in our commitment to it, as the road ahead is not likely to be an easy one, as to be most effective, it will require a partnership among   Governments, Industry and Civil Society,” she urged.


She further announced that her country had endorsed the Moscow Declaration which was adopted at the First Global Ministerial Conference on Healthy Lifestyles and Non Communicable Disease Control held in Moscow, Russia on 28-29 April 2011, and told the Assembly that Trinidad and Tobago had supported “without reservation, the call for the WHO to develop a comprehensive global monitoring framework on NCDs.”


“Let us … as the international community commit our best endeavours to showing global leadership through mobilizing the necessary coordinated action to solve the solvable problem of NCDs,” she concluded.


The World Health Assembly is the forum through which the World Health Organization (WHO) is governed by its 193 member states. It is the world’s highest health policy setting body and comprises health ministers from all WHO Member States. The WHA focuses on a specific health agenda prepared by the Executive Board. The main functions of the World Health Assembly are to determine the policies of the Organization, appoint the Director-General, supervise financial policies, and review and approve the proposed programme budget. The Health Assembly is held annually in Geneva, Switzerland.

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