Honolulu, Hawaii (PAHO) — The Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr. Mirta Roses, is in Hawaii to participate in the sixth Healing Our Spirit Worldwide conference, a gathering of people and organizations dedicated to improving the health and well-being of indigenous peoples throughout the world.
In remarks at the Governor's Luncheon, on September 6, Dr. Roses reminded all present that to develop healthy and well people it is necessary to address at least three general areas of action, namely the architecture of the health care system itself, inequities that are deeply ingrained in society and the translation into concrete actions of lessons learned.
She defended the use of the Primary Health Care strategies, which can promote better and more equitable health outcomes, are more efficient, provide more 'bang for the buck,' by having lower long-term costs, and secure higher levels of user satisfaction.
Dr. Mirta Roses noted that there is no country where indigenous people are not poorer than non-indigenous people. They are over-represented among the ranks of the poor: indigenous peoples are about 5% of global population, but represent 10% of the poor worldwide. In the Americas, the poverty and exclusion suffered by the indigenous people is very hard to break.
"That is why we launched the Faces, Voices and Places initiative at PAHO. More than 180 million people in Latin American and the Caribbean live in poverty and are invisible to national averages many of them being indigenous people. We need to identify their places, see their faces, and hear their voices," she said. "In the frame of Faces, Voices and Places we have been working with indigenous people communities in Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay, guided by the principle that Indigenous peoples have a different approach to life and hence to health that implies to reconcile different concepts and visions which include the exercise of power, the vision on economics and development, and the concept of health. This must be done through dialogue and building on common ground," she completed.
During her formal presentation at the gathering in Honolulu, Dr. Roses focused on the indigenous peoples of the Americas, who are 45 to 48 million people, roughly 10% of the population in Latin America and the Caribbean, and can be found in 24 countries. There are 400 different peoples, which constitute 40% of the rural population of Latin America.
"Indigenous people living in "development frontiers" and conflict areas suffer the effects of colonization, natural resources exploitation, drug dealers' activities, armed conflicts and the unilateral imposition of State policies," noted Dr. Roses, who also mentioned the problem of gender inequity. Indigenous women are doubly affected, with higher illiteracy rates—as evidenced by the situation in Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Guatemala, Panama—as well as higher fertility rates. Women suffer from violence at greater rates and have a higher probability—as large as three times that of non-indigenous women—of dying during childbirth.
For the Director of the Pan American Health Organization, only an unrelenting focus on results will be able to overcome the barriers of inequality and exclusion, and significantly improve the well-being of the indigenous people around the world.