Following the reopening of Antigua and Barbuda’s borders to commercial activity since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of patriotic nationals in the Diaspora has mobilized community support to help strengthen the national response and recovery efforts.
Last Thursday, the Antigua and Barbuda Associations United (ABAU) a non-profit umbrella organization comprising 25 community groups throughout the United States, convened its second live panel discussion aimed at engaging the community. The theme of the discussion was “Leaders and Community Organizations in the Diaspora unite to discuss priorities, collaborative solutions and mutual support in the creation of a ‘new normal.’”
The virtual meeting attracted over 1200 attendees who joined digitally via Zoom and Facebook Live. The panel featured a diverse group of Antiguan and Barbudan experts, who addressed social, economic, environmental and political impacts of COVID-19.
The panel comprised:
Dr. Dwayne Thwaites – Medical Services;
Hon E.P. ‘Chet’ Greene – Minister of Foreign Affairs, Imkigration and Trade;
Rev. Algernon Lewis – Moravian Church EWIP;
Dr. Delores James – Associate Professor, University of Florida.
The panel was moderated by Derede Whitlock of DSW Consulting Media. She guided the discussion as panelists addressed specific opportunities for the Diaspora to assist in planning the way forward. Several opportunities to provide relief and assistance to the most vulnerable Antiguans and Barbudans were also identified. The discussion addressed the following issues on the agenda:
– Level of Testing and Treatment
– Access to quality health care and information
– Public Health Implications
– Tourism – jobs and state of the industry
– Impact on businesses, especially small and solo businesses
– Impact of health and safety in the learning environment
– Implications for the new school year
– Shift in health and wellness behaviors in response to the global pandemic
– Identifying the greatest needs among the most vulnerable groups
– Foster sustainable policies including the transition to renewable energy, building capabilities in health, digital and green technologies
– Investments in research and development (R&D) and cooperation with universities, the scientific community and the private sector.
There was general consensus among panelists that although Antigua and Barbuda continues to feel the impact of the global pandemic there is “light at the end of the tunnel.” The panelists identified challenges such as insufficient testing, lack of compliance to health and safety protocols, limited community support and lack of reliable information about health outcomes as some of the major issues facing the nation.
Dr Thwaites questioned the government’s current approach to testing and contact tracing, given the discovery of new COVID-19 cases with no recent travel history in the past week. “It simply means that there are COVID cases living among us that are not being detected. These are cases that we have discovered just by chance. But how many more cases like this are out there?” he asked.
Thwautes expressed concerns that the lack of clarity regarding testing and treatment modalities has perpetuated a lack of trust and skepticism that could perpetuate low compliance among visitors and residents alike. He believes that the administration’s testing strategy must shift immediately to address asymptomatic COVID-19 cases.
Minister Greene admitted that the Government of Antigua and Barbuda was indeed facing many challenges since the country reopened its borders in June. However, he believed that the recovery process was being handled reasonably well, given economic challenges and other constraints that the government is currently facing.
Greene welcomed support and contributions from the Diaspora. “Antigua and Barbuda needs all the support we can get from the Diaspora at this very difficult time. We need your contributions and your ideas to help us rebuild our country.” The Minister of Foreign Affairs who also holds responsibility for Diaspora Affairs, announced that former Minister of Culture Mr. Eleston ‘Namba Lumbu’ Adams will head the Diaspora Office which will be based in Antigua. Minister Greene explained that this will facilitate ongoing engagement and the exchange of ideas between the Government and nationals in the Diaspora.
Rev. Algernon Lewis indicated that the Moravian Church Community in Antigua and Barbuda has been actively receiving donations of food supplies and personal care items to provide ongoing support in the community. He suggested that more specific needs assessments should be conducted by NGOs to ensure that the greatest needs of the most vulnerable citizens can be prioritized. “We should be more targeted in providing assistance so that we can be sure that we are providing the things that they actually need,” Rev Lewis said.
Dr. Delores James, is an Associate Professor at the The University of Florida where she conducts research on social media use, digital health technologies, mobile health, and online health communities. She is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Leader and works toward increasing health equity and advancing a Culture of Health where everyone living in America has a fair opportunity to live a long, healthy life. Dr. James pointed to the vast opportunities to strengthen Antigua and Barbuda’s health system by leveraging digital technology. She however suggested that the dissemination of information from the Government of Antigua and Barbuda could be better streamlined to accommodate the community. “All of the information and data related to COVID-19 should be warehoused in one place for ease of access. You should not have to go to the Ministry of Health for certain statistics and information and then the Ministry of Tourism for travel requirements,” Dr. James said.
ABAU President Andy Howell indicated that the organization has received significant positive feedback on the panel discussion. “ We are committed to facilitating ongoing dialogue between the Government of Antigua and Barbuda and nationals in the Diaspora. The ABAU has already implemented several fundraising initiatives to address areas of greatest need,” Howell said.
A T-shirt drive launched in June as an initial grassroots initiative to raise funds will run until November to help raise awareness and funds to assist the Fiennes Institute.