As part of the initiatives of the Pro Tempore Presidency of the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC) headed by the Republic of Argentina, the International Seminar “Exchange of experiences and lessons learned on the strategies implemented by the countries within the framework of the COVID-19 Pandemic” was held in conjunction with CARICOM and the OECS, in Barbados. Over 100 attendees joined the seminar virtually, for the thorough examination of the Argentinian and the Caribbean experiences concerning diagnoses, responses, and prospects in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact and public responses in the areas of health, humanitarian assistance and tourism.
The articulations between health decisions and the fields of social experience most affected by the pandemic in each region were highlighted, as well as the lessons learned and future challenges that the pandemic left as a balance. The health sector grappled with a myriad of challenges including the relationship between population and public health systems: availability and access to vaccines; logistic diagramming and planning of assistance campaigns. Executive Director of CARPHA Dr. Joy St. John enforced the need for communication and information systems that inspire confidence in the population saying, “CARPHA continues to urge Member States to ensure that communication campaigns are conducted to augment vaccination uptake, because the region faces the real threat of debilitating effects of long COVID, particularly as it battles the scourge of NCDs.”
Executive Director of CDEMA, Elizabeth Riley spoke to the impact of the pandemic saying, “The COVID-19 pandemic has been the most prolific hazard event of the century, impacting lives, livelihoods and life chances. The Americas have been one of the most affected regions, with 29% of global cases and 43% of fatalities.” It was emphasized that the pandemic cannot be separated from the threats inherent, among others, to climate change which are increasing at a dizzying rate. The damage caused by the pandemic was increased by the continuity of other socio-environmental disasters, such as the explosive eruption of the La Soufrière volcano in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Hurricane Elsa of July 2021 and the concurrence of dengue outbreaks.
Both Sabina Frederic and the Undersecretary of Health Strategies of the Argentine Ministry of Health, Juan Manuel Castelli, highlighted the relevance of Argentina’s vaccination program – which reached almost 90% of the population – as a State policy. This was extended thanks to the social trust in the Argentine public health system and in the inter-ministerial responsibilities that included the humanitarian assistance of the White Helmets, whose volunteers were defined as essential personnel.
The existence of humanitarian assistance mechanisms in this scenario was highlighted because of their ability to have comprehensive approaches to define responses to disasters such as the pandemic. CDEMA’s Regional Response Mechanism and Argentine civil volunteering arms were seen as capacities to aid vulnerable groups. The extensive loss of learning and numbers of affected vulnerable students were highlighted as a priority in the OECS Region, with a need to urgently and strategically address learning recovery and revolution for the future leaders.
Concerning the tourism industry, the accumulated experience and the work undertaken by local and regional authorities made it possible to mitigate the health impact of the pandemic and to define response strategies based on previous knowledge and policies. By the end of 2020, a partial recovery of the sector was achieved in both regions following extended border closure and restriction on movement, although the difference between domestic tourism in Argentina and international tourism in the Caribbean was highlighted. Both delegations agreed on the rebound achieved as of the end of 2021, with exponential increases.
The seminar concluded with next steps, specifically highlighting the capacity of CARICOM to deploy regional responses to disasters. Training was offered in the strongest areas of both the Caribbean and Argentina: regional and integral response to disasters by Caribbean agencies; promotion of civil volunteering by Argentina, and its capacity for territorial and communicational humanitarian assistance.