|Hemisphere's Health Authorities Open Annual Session|
Washington, D.C., September 29, 2008 (PAHO)—The ministers of health of all the countries of the Americas opened their annual meeting today, electing Brazil's Health Minister, Dr. José Gomes Temporão as President of the Directing Council of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, welcomed delegates with a plea for primary health care, noting, "It is not easy to make health equity a guiding principle for health systems, especially when health ministers are expected to operate financially self-sustaining services. But it can be done. And this region has proved the case."
"We need to ground public health action in a clear understanding of the multiple forces that affect health," Dr. Chan told the ministers. "Primary health care is the best way to do so." She noted that the October World Health Report on primary health care will commemorate the anniversary of Alma-Ata. "The report offers practical and technical guidance for reforms that can equip health systems to respond to health challenges of unprecedented complexity. The report asks political leaders to pay close attention to rising social expectations for health care. As mounting evidence shows, people want care that is fair as well as efficient. People want care that incorporates many of the values, principles, and approaches articulated at Alma-Ata 30 years ago."
She also extended "condolences to the many people in this region who lost loved ones, homes, and livelihoods following the recent storms and hurricanes." She added, "Warnings were issued and heeded, and governments did a commendable job of moving populations out of harm's way. Still, life is not back to normal for many millions of people. In some areas, including parts of Cuba, medical facilities were extensively damaged, further delaying a return to routine health care. For several reasons, Haiti was most vulnerable, was hardest hit, and faces the steepest climb to recovery."
PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses welcomed delegates to the five-day meeting, where ministers discuss critical health policy issues, telling them "We have important challenges to confront and opportunities to take advantage of." She noted that crucial topics for discussion include strengthening vital and health statistics, public health and intellectual property, the Millennium Development Goals and the actions needed to reach them, and the fight against inequity and poverty. Ministers are also focusing on cervical cancer prevention, neonatal health, adolescent and youth health, prevention and management of diabetes and obesity, response to vector-borne diseases, and climate change and its impact on public health.
The Pan American Health Organization, founded in 1902, works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of their peoples. It serves as the Regional Office of the World Health Organization (WHO).
Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization