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Statement By the Hon. Kerrie Symmonds, Minister of Energy, Small Business and Entrepreneurship for World Metrology Day – May 20, 2021

Theme: Measurement for Health

Fellow Barbadians, as the world grapples to overcome the ongoing challenges posed by COVID 19 and the severe impact this pandemic is having on our, health,  social and economic environment, Barbados joins countries around the world to recognize, today May 20, 2021 as World Metrology Day.  On this day, we commemorate the anniversary of the signing of the Metre Convention of 1875. This treaty provides the basis for a worldwide coherent measurement system that underpins scientific discovery and innovation, industrial manufacturing and international trade, as well as the improvement of the quality of life and the protection of the global environment.

The theme chosen for this year, “Measurement for Health” well fits the time in which we now live.  This is so,  as we reflect on the unprecedented health challenge that countries around the globe face today.  This theme was chosen to create awareness of the important role measurement plays in health, and thus in the wellbeing of every one.  For over a year now, the entire world has had to face the onslaught of this COVID 19 pandemic.  Furthermore, during the past weeks, we in Barbados have had the added threat of significant health and environmental challenges related to the ‘ash fall’ from the La Soufriere volcano eruption in St. Vincent. These occurrences should force us to examine the important role that the establishment of standards and international best practices can play in our everyday lives to mitigate the effects that such unexpected and unpredictable health threats my pose.

 As we all know, over the past year, COVID 19 has compromised the physical health of millions of people around the world, while claiming the lives of nearly three and a half million people so far. It has also disrupted economies and caused disruptions that overwhelmed the capacity of health systems and other social infrastructures in both industrialized and developing countries across the globe. More than a year after the start of this pandemic, today, the economic outlook for countries globally, remains uncertain.

 Metrology and Testing has increasingly played a critical role in Barbados’ decision making and health-protocols, especially during this pandemic.  For example, as Barbados reopens its borders to international travel, following the shut down as a result of Covid-19,   a new and innovative technology in the form of an easy-to-use app which is designed to simplify and expedite the travel experience has been introduced. This is an app that can be downloaded prior to travel to Barbados and it allows visitors the opportunity to complete their ED form online, upload negative COVID-19 PCR test results and complete their health questionnaire, all from one centralized place. The App also provides capabilities for monitoring temperature and symptoms during the 7 day period following a traveler’s arrival in Barbados.  The app is complemented by a state-of-the-art monitoring bracelet which is worn by the traveler during his or her quarantine period. This water-resistant and tamper-resistant bracelet keeps travelers and locals safe by ensuring that visitors remain within their designated quarantine location.

Early in the pandemic, as part of our country’s response planning, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) signaled the implementation of a comprehensive plan to support country preparedness efforts for the outbreak associated with the Coronavirus (Covid-19). This plan included establishing and strengthening laboratory capacity for early detection of the virus through the public health and reference laboratory networks in the Americas. The Barbados ‘Best-dos Santos Public Health Laboratory’ became one of the first in the Caribbean to acquire test kits and reagents for Covid-19 detection. This was supplemented by concurrent training of laboratory personnel in the new testing protocol.

As is the case in many industrial countries across the globe, the maintenance of acceptable standards and an advanced quality infrastructure is crucial for Barbados maintaining the highest quality of medical products and services.  This, however,   requires the forging of a strong partnership between Government and private sector in maintaining a modern and internationally accepted framework of relevant policies, legislation, regulations and practices that support and enhance the quality, safety and environmental soundness of goods and services produced. This is also necessary with respect to the processes used in production. The whole production process must be based in standardization, metrology, accreditation, conformity assessment and market surveillance.

The Ministry of Energy, Small Business and Entrepreneurship, through the Barbados National Standards Institution (BNSI), has made recommendations to the Cabinet with respect to the implementation of a National Quality Policy for Barbados which was developed to improve the competitiveness of Barbados’ goods and services and to use the application of a National Quality Infrastructure that would support the economic, social, environmental and sustainable development of  the country. This National Quality Policy will reflect the direction that the government and the wider country will take  regarding quality, standards and technical regulations as they relate to the production and supply of goods and services in Barbados. The National Quality Policy will also provide the institutional framework needed for the implementation of quality initiatives in virtually all segments of the Barbadian society.

The National Quality Policy should complement the recent effort made by the  Ministry of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy (MMABE) to strengthen Government’s  regulatory  framework regarding protection of the natural environment by introducing the Control of Disposable Plastics Act.  This Act now governs a regime in Barbados that serves to control the production, importation, use and disposal  of  products of petroleum based plastics that, for years in the past, have served to compromise the health of Barbadian residents, the natural  and more so the marine environment.  In this regard, the BNSI facilitates the testing of various products to ensure their compliance with the Act.

Overall, it is viewed that the deployment of quality and standards in production, taking into account the need also to protect the health of the natural environment, is a good competitive strategy that would allow for increased quality awareness in production and increased national productivity. This approach will enable Barbados to position itself well beyond the boundaries of mere compliance to technical global trading requirements. It would allow Barbados to become a fully integrated, competitive international trading partner that would exploit numerous opportunities that present themselves.

The coronavirus pandemic has shown us that in a globalized world, the application of technical standards can save lives, improve human health and keep essential value chains moving in times of strain. This is with respect to the goods we consume, the facilitation of trade and investment, the need to ensure that a quality infrastructure is maintained and  the need to ensure  occupational safety in the workplace and the safety and general well being of citizens. Failure to observe rules on metrology, calibration and standards for medical products can result not only in goods not making it in the market but can also have negative implications for human health and safety.

The pandemic has brought the value of reliable and agreed standards into sharp focus. A 2020 Report by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, UNIDO, stated “There has been a number of reports of national medical authorities being unable to use newly delivered paraphernalia designed to battle the coronavirus, such as medical jumpsuits, masks and testing kits, owing to defects or simply because the products were not designed to comply with the certifications employed in that region. Such issues can easily further strain  medical budgets, waste valuable time and further endanger medical professionals and patients.”

I remain mindful that countries in the region are in the process of amending standards on labelling. This is with respect specifically to  the Front-of-Package labelling (FOPL), which represents a key component of a comprehensive strategy aimed at improving the availability of and access to healthier lifestyles, through improved food and beverages options, while providing the consumer with an easy means to interpret the nutritional facts about the foods they purchase for consumption at a glance. FOPL allows the consumer to make informed choices in the absence of little or no nutritional based education. It can be the catalyst for dietary changes. The introduction of the FOPL warning label system is hoped to support the food and beverage manufacturing industries by bringing greater awareness to the nutrient content of their products and the impact that they have on the health of their consumers. It is hoped that manufacturers will be moved to develop and reformulate products which would fit positively within the parameters of the FOPL warning. It is also hoped  that, in time, all manufacturers will become strategic partners in the fight against diet related diseases and non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

 Further to this, we in the Ministry give full support to the National Service Sector Development Strategy which intends to provide a framework for ‘Inclusive and Sustainable Development’. Through the BNSI, we have had successful dialogue in the recently concluded “Fish Bowl Conversation Series 2021’ where it became evident that more businesses needed to join the BNSI and become members in order to benefit from the resources of the institution. This is in terms of getting guidance in how to implement strong quality systems in their businesses which is especially needed when it comes to micro, small and medium sized businesses. It is believed that this strategy will enable businesses, small and large,  to be more internationally competitive and recognized which should allow them to tap into the huge potential of the export market for their goods and services. In this vein, I encourage ALL businesses to engage with the BNSI and use this opportunity to build strong systems of quality into their operations. This is the only way that Barbadian businesses can survive in an aggressive and dynamic global market place.

World Metrology Day recognises and celebrates the contribution of all the people that work in intergovernmental and national metrology organisations and institutes. The BNSI, in support of the fight against the spread of the COVID-19 virus, therefore remains cognizant of the need for manufacturers, importers and exporters, health care providers and consumers to use approved-quality medical products and personal protective equipment (PPE). In this regard, the Government of Barbados, through the Ministry of Small Business Entrepreneurship and Commerce, is therefore  on the cusp of enacting a comprehensive Metrology Act.  This Act will embrace all aspects of metrology, thereby harmonising Barbados’ legislative and strategic plans with those in the international arena. It will provide the legal framework for the development of Barbados’ metrology system. A main objective of this upcoming Act is the ‘facilitation of fair trade’ through harmonised written standards, consistent measurement standards and internationally accepted certificates.  Such a certificate would allow for an instrument that specifies “tested and approved for use in Barbados” to be sold and used in another country without any further technical inspection.

Multiple efforts, commercial, academic and public-sector, globally, are underway to develop similar tools that ensure the reliability of the vital COVID-19 testing enterprise. As testing becomes scaled up, we have to be confident that test results are accurate. Experts from standards bodies across the world are working to ensure that standards, controls, validation tests, and protocols that underpin testing are in place to guarantee accuracy of test results. Today, as our nation develops strategies to rebuild the economy and society in a post pandemic era, with the aim of  making  it stronger and more resilient than before, I invite you to take some time  to  recognize this year’s World Metrology Day and its significance to our national development and daily lives.

May God guide us through this very difficult and challenging period of our history.

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