The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is an international public health agency with over 100 years of experience working to improve health and living standards of the people of the Americas. It enjoys international recognition as part of the United Nations system, serving as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization, and as the health organization of the Inter-American System.
PAHO is based in Washington, D.C., and has scientific and technical experts at its headquarters, in its 27 country offices, and its nine scientific centers, all working with the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean in dealing with priority health issues. The health authorities of PAHO's Member States set PAHO's technical and administrative policies through its Governing Bodies. PAHO Member States include all 35 countries in the Americas; Puerto Rico is an Associate Member. France, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are Participating States, and Portugal and Spain are Observer States.
The Organization's essential mission is to strengthen national and local health systems and improve the health of the peoples of the Americas, in collaboration with Ministries of Health, other government and international agencies, nongovernmental organizations, universities, social security agencies, community groups, and many others.
PAHO promotes primary health care strategies, which reach people in their communities, to extend health services to all and to increase efficiency in the use of scarce resources. It assists countries in fighting old diseases that have re-emerged, such as cholera, dengue and tuberculosis, and new diseases such as the spreading AIDS epidemic, providing technical cooperation including education and social communications support, promoting work with non-governmental organizations, and support for programs to prevent transmission of communicable diseases. The Organization is also involved in prevention of chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer, which are increasingly affecting the populations of developing countries in the Americas.
In its efforts to improve health, PAHO targets the most vulnerable groups including mothers and children, workers, the poor, the elderly, and refugees and displaced persons. It focuses on issues related to equity for those who lack access to health, and on a Panamerican approach encouraging countries to work together on common issues.
PAHO and its Member Countries are committed to improving the safety of blood in the Americas, launching a blood safety initiative designed to ensure that all blood for transfusion is free of disease and to increase the number of volunteer blood donors.
A major priority for the Americas is cutting infant mortality, and PAHO is mobilizing new political, institutional and financial resources to prevent an additional 25,000 infant deaths every year through application of the Integrated Management of Childhood Illness strategy, a simple and practical approach in which primary health care workers are taught a complete process to evaluate the health status of children brought to a health post or clinic. They learn to recognize signs of disease and evaluate and treat them. They learn to give parents information on how to prevent disease in the home. If they see danger signs indicating the infant could die, they are taught to treat the child immediately or take him or her to a hospital.
Its Governing Bodies have mandated PAHO to move aggressively in the fight to reduce the use of tobacco, emphasizing the health aspects and the high cost to the countries of tobacco use. It also continues to emphasize the approach of health promotion as applied to people and not an abstract construct.
Improvement of drinking water supplies, adequate sanitation, and increased access to health care for the poor are still top priorities for PAHO, with a focus on equity. The Organization is intensifying its efforts to have countries know the true state of health of their populations and where the inequalities lie. Program efforts focus on correcting inequality, taking into account decentralization and change of state functions, on showing that health has a role to play in the success of other sectors, and on how attention to health affects positively other aspects of human development. Advocacy in this area is also directed to reducing pernicious gender inequity, which reflects in some health problems of women.
The Pan American approach is a part of PAHO history and the spirit of Panamericanism continues to stimulate technical cooperation among countries in health. PAHO has helped countries work together toward common goals, and to initiate multi-country health ventures in Central America, the Caribbean, the Andean Region, and the Southern Cone. Experience has shown practical benefits such as the solidarity that helped Central America after hurricane Mitch, and there are numerous other examples. Health collaboration found expression at the highest political level when American heads of state in their Summit in Santiago accepted a health initiative called "Health Technology Linking the Americas."
The countries of Latin America and the Caribbean joined together over 20 years ago to buy vaccines through a revolving fund, bringing them tangible benefits and helping advance PAHO's efforts to eliminate or control vaccine-preventable diseases. These are among the Organization's most notable successes, starting with the eradication of smallpox from the Americas in 1973; a triumph followed five years later by global eradication of the dreaded disease.
A major effort committing the Americas to embark on polio eradication in 1985 succeeded in September 1994, when a distinguished International Commission declared the Americas officially polio-free. The last case of polio in the Americas was identified August 23, 1991 in a young boy named Luis FermÃn Tenorio Cortez, in JunÃn, Peru. Since then, despite intensive surveillance, no cases of polio have been detected anywhere in the Americas, and the World Health Organization is now working toward the goal of eradicating polio globally. PAHO assists the countries in mobilizing the necessary resources to provide immunization and treatment services for all vaccine-preventable diseases. PAHO is close to accomplishing the goal of eliminating measles from this hemisphere and is pressing on with the introduction of new vaccines that are currently available, such as Haemophilus influenza B. to reduce meningitis and respiratory infections. PAHO works to reduce the toll of death and illness from diarrheal diseases, including cholera, through case management and oral rehydration therapy to prevent deaths from dehydration, and to provide adequate diagnosis and treatment of acute respiratory infections, thus saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of children each year.
PAHO disseminates scientific and technical information through its publications program, its Internet site, and a network of academic libraries, documentation centers, and local health care libraries.
The Organization provides technical collaboration in a variety of specialized public health fields, and organizes emergency preparedness and disaster relief coordination. It supports efforts to control malaria, Chagas' disease, urban rabies, leprosy, and other diseases that affect the people of the Americas. PAHO collaborates with governments, other agencies, and private groups to address major nutritional problems including protein-energy malnutrition, and is now working to eliminate iodine and vitamin A deficiencies.
It expedites health promotion to help countries deal with health problems typical of development and urbanization, such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, accidents, smoking, addiction to drugs and alcohol, and others.
The Organization also executes projects for other United Nations agencies, for international organizations such as the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank, for official development cooperation agencies of various governments, and for philanthropic foundations.
PAHO strengthens the health sector capacity in the countries to advance their priority programs through intersectoral action, promoting an integral approach to health problems. It also works to improve women's health, promoting the greater integration of women in society, as well as awareness of their importance as both recipients and providers of health services.
PAHO trains health workers at all levels, through fellowships, courses and seminars, and the strengthening of national training institutions. It leads in the use of advanced communications technologies for information, health promotion, and education, working with journalists in many countries.
The Organization recognizes the role of the private sector in the delivery of services, and fosters dialogue and partnerships with the Ministries of Health. In addition to its core budget financed by quota contributions from its Member Governments, PAHO also seeks outside funding to help implement special programs and initiatives in response to vital health needs. Voluntary tax-deductible contributions for PAHO health and education projects in the Americas may be made to the Pan American Health Organization and Education Foundation (PAHEF).
Dr. Mirta Roses Periago of Argentina became the new Director of the Pan American Health Organization on January 31, 2003. Dr. Roses, who was elected to a five-year term by the Ministers of Health of the Americas at the Pan American Sanitary Conference September 25, 2002, is the fourth Latin American and the first woman to lead the world's oldest international health agency.
PAHOâ€™s Deputy Director is Dr. Cristina Beato, formerly of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The Assistant Director is Dr. Carissa Etienne, former chief medical officer and head of the national AIDS program of Dominica. Another member of PAHOâ€™s Executive Management team is Michael Boorstein, Director of Administration.