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Human rights and health – still on the agenda in the Americas

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The Fifth Summit of the Americas, held in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, in April 2009, resulted in the Declaration of Commitment of Port of Spain “Securing Our Citizens’ Future by Promoting Human Prosperity, Energy Security and Environmental Sustainability”. The Declaration, made by 34 “Heads of State and Government of the democratic countries of the Americas” on 19 April, is sprinkled with references to both human rights and health. 

In the first paragraph of the Declaration, in its Preamble, the Heads of State and Government (HoSG) declare: “…we reiterate our will to strengthen national, regional and hemispheric efforts to create the conditions for justice, prosperity, security and peace for the peoples of the Americas, based on the protection and promotion of and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.” Paragraph 5 notes that the challenges facing the people of the Americas are closely inter-dependent with the countries’ efforts to, among other actions, “protect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms”, and “achieve broader civic participation of all citizens of the inter-American community.”

There is heartening reference to gender as a cross-cutting issue, and recognition of the importance of statistics disaggregated by sex; to the review of national social protection, inclusion and poverty eradication programs; and to the encouragement of full and equal participation of women in the political life and decision-making structures of the countries at all levels.

Paragraph 19 of the Declaration reiterates the commitment to families and society to protect the rights of children and adolescents, including the right to education and the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, while subsequent text specifically mentions food security, neonatal mortality, non-communicable diseases and their risk factors, drug abuse and illicit drug use, nutrition, and the renewal of primary health care. The International Health Regulations (2005), brought into sharper focus since the 5th Summit by the still-evolving threat of influenza A(H1N1) pandemic, are included, with a specific request for the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to work with and support the countries in their implementation of the Regulations. The HoSG also recognize HIV/AIDS; disabilities; aging; information and connectivity; climate change; and disaster reduction, preparedness, and response as issues, among others, for continuing attention. Paragraph 42 of the Declaration specifically notes the intent of the HoSG to promote, in the regional framework and with support from PAHO and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), a review of the feasibility of preparing an inter-American convention on the rights of older persons.

The closing paragraphs of the Declaration again reaffirm “full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms”, the commitment of the HoSG to promote and protect them, and their support for sustainable development with equity, social inclusion, non-discrimination, and participation. The “engagement of our citizens, communities, and civil society in the design and execution of development policies and programs” will continue to be encouraged.

Though no-one can doubt the sincerity and good intentions of the Heads of State and Government, the challenge, as usual, is the implementation of their mandates at national, subregional, and regional levels.  PAHO is well-placed, through its technical cooperation programs with the countries of the Americas at those three levels, to play a critical role in not only raising awareness of the Declaration, but also in assisting with the implementation of the mandates. Through its relationship and cooperation with subregional entities such as the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Central American Integration System (SICA); its role as the specialized health agency of the Interamerican System; its status as a member of the United Nations system; and its membership in the Joint Summit Working Group (JSWG), PAHO can support strengthened promotion, protection, and fulfillment of the right to the highest attainable standard of health (the right to health) in the countries of the Americas. 

PAHO’s technical cooperation program already includes the areas highlighted by the HoSG; its support will be enhanced by strengthened actions to promote the Declaration of Commitment of Port of Spain and the right to health. The countries of the Americas will be well served by PAHO’s efforts, at the three levels at which it operates, to facilitate strengthening of intersectoral action, promote greater participation by civil society and other stakeholders in health, and, most importantly, improve monitoring and evaluation of national and development partner actions related to the Summit mandates.

Information on the Fifth Summit of the Americas and the full text of the Declaration of Commitment of Port of Spain are at http://fifthsummitoftheamericas.org/home.aspx; information on PAHO’s human rights and health program is at http://www.paho.org/hq/index.php?option=com_content&task=blogcategory&id=1178&Itemid=643

Submitted by Dr. Beverley Barnett, PAHO/WHO Representative, Belize
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Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 June 2009 19:29

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