UWI experts call out lack of Caribbean representation on Global Health Commission

by June 23, 2023

Public health experts from The University of the West Indies (The UWI) have expressed concern over the lack of  Caribbean representation on the O’Neill-Lancet Commission on Racism, Structural Discrimination and Global Health; a commission tasked with identifying and promoting the implementation of anti-racist actions and strategies by states, civil society actors, and global health institutions, to reduce structural discrimination.

In an article published by The Lancet, one of the world’s leading general medical journals and co-convenor of the Commission, Dr Sandeep Maharaj, Associate Dean and Lecturer – Faculty of Medical Sciences, The UWI, St. Augustine; Dr Darleen Y. Franco, Public Health and Primary Care Physician, Northwest Regional Health Authority, Trinidad & Tobago; and Professor Terence Seemungal, Dean, Faculty of Medical Sciences, The UWI, St. Augustine articulate their concerns; “It is rather disappointing and somewhat sad The Lancet can have a Commission on racism, structural discrimination and global health and not have a single commissioner from the Caribbean.” Pointing to history, the article states “The entire (Caribbean) region was born out of colonization by people who felt entitled to take land that belonged to the indigenous people and almost wiped them off the face of the planet, either violently, or via one of the first massive global health transfers of disease (especially smallpox).”

Noting that the inequities are still very present, the public health experts argue “Even though a century has passed since the abolition of slavery and the end of indentureship, inequities in the region still exist today.” They referenced evidence in ‘the COVID-19 vaccine scandal’ which saw the Caribbean in a long queue to purchase vaccines. The article concludes that despite myriad challenges “Caribbean people have made tremendous contributions globally to all aspects of development and the Caribbean must be allowed to articulate its views, particularly in areas of racism and structural discrimination.” 

Officially convened in March 2023, the Commission was founded on the recognition that racism, not race, creates and maintains unjust and avoidable health inequities in countries around the world. It will leverage partnerships and engage communities for research to diagnose the problem of racism in health, publish public reports of the findings and foster policy dialogue. The Commission hopes to use its empirical research to identify best practices and actionable anti-racist strategies.

The twenty-two member, cross-sector team will conduct its work under the leadership of co-chairs Tialeng Mofookeng, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health and Ngozi Erondu, Senior Scholar, O’Neill Institute & Technical Director, Global Institute for Disease Elimination (GLIDE).  Commissioners represent the African continent, Europe, North and South American, South and Western Asia, Australia and The Pacific Islands, and have worked and conducted research globally.