Recently, St Lucia was host to the 54th Annual Scientific Meeting, hosted by the Caribbean Health Research Council – CHRC – which provided the opportunity for health professionals to gather to share new research findings and exchange ideas and information. With the advent of diseases such as HIV/AIDS, SARS, and now the H1N1 virus, to name a few, it is clear that the more research that is conducted in priority areas and the findings shared among countries; the more positive the impact would be on the prevention and control of these diseases.

The CHRC was founded in 1955 as the Standing Advisory Committee for Medical Research in the British Caribbean. The actual name of the Council changed over the years, in keeping with changes in the political landscape of the region as well as the shift in focus from the purely biomedical to also include broader health issues such as behavioral and other social determinants of health. However, the mandate of the institution remained the same ‘To promote, support, facilitate and coordinate health research in the Caribbean; help disseminate the findings; and advise and work with Caribbean governments and other stakeholders on health research matters.’

In keeping with this mandate, the 2009 Scientific Meeting attracted over 200 health researchers, doctors, nurses, nutritionists, students, policy advisors and other interested persons from around the region. During the three-day conference, one hundred and seventeen (117) research papers were presented by various teams and professionals on a wide variety of topics, which had all been carefully identified and researched in the various countries. Topics covered included Aging, Obesity, High-risk Behaviour among Adolescents, Diabetes, Hypertension, HIV/AIDS, Cancers, Diarrheal Illnesses, Asthma and Cardiovascular Diseases in the Caribbean, to name a few.

Feature Lectures were delivered by Dame Sally Davies, Head of Research & Development, Department of Health UK; Dr Jean W Pape of Haiti, Professor Elsie Le Franc, leading Caribbean Health Sociologist and Professor Martin Wiseman of the World Cancer Research Fund. They presented on a variety of topics including Using Research to Guide Policy Development; HIV/AIDS; and Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer.

At the Awards Banquet, Dr Cecil A. Cyrus of St Vincent & the Grenadines was recognized for ‘Outstanding Contribution to Health Research in the Area of Surgery’ and Dr. Jean W. Pape of Haiti was recognized for ‘Outstanding Contribution in the area of HIV/AIDS Research’.

The membership of CHRC comprises 18 English speaking Caribbean countries and Suriname and the Annual Meeting allows stakeholders to come together to share their findings, ideas and recommendations with regional and international colleagues. It is very much a ‘Learning Conference’ where the health professionals use the research findings to improve the quality of care that they provide to patients. Policy makers are also exposed to the requisite research evidence to guide the development and implementation of programs to improve the quality of life of their citizens.