Art as a bridge to health. Camille Cushman (center), from Ohio, USA, embraces a young resident of the Belén district of Iquitos, Peru. Cushman was part of a clown troupe led by U.S. physician-activist Patch Adams that traveled to Peru to perform, parade, and paint houses to engage the community and pave the way for health promotion. PAHO, through its "Faces, Voices, and Places of the Millennium Development Goals" initiative, is helping to create a "Belén Network" that will raise funds to construct a new community health center. Photo by Sonia Mey-Schmidt/PAHO.
Belize pioneers electronic records
Belize has become the first country in the Americas to sign an agreement with the World Health Organization's Health Metrics Network, an international partnership aimed at improving health information. The agreement, signed in September, will support a cutting-edge computerized Health Information System developed with PAHO support, which links the Ministry of Health with public and private hospitals, laboratories, and clinics across the country, currently capturing over 80 percent of consultations and other health encounters. It will eventually provide every man, woman, child with a personal electronic health record and will facilitate tracking and monitoring of infectious diseases, prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, improved care for people with diabetes, and rapid identification of patients in unsafe drug events, among other priority health issues. Health Metrics Network will provide Belize additional technical and financial resources to align its system with the best global standards on country health information, providing an example for other countries in the region.
Ecuador aims to curb bad fats
Ecuador has joined a growing list of PAHO member countries that are taking steps to reduce trans fatty acids, or trans fats, in their populations' diets. In October, representatives of Ecuador's food industry and its ministries of health, education, agriculture, economy, and social development signed an agreement that calls for limiting trans fats to no more than 2 percent of fats in oils and no more than 5 percent in industrially processed foods. The accord also calls for disclosing amounts of trans and saturated fats on food labels, recommends that restaurants provide similar information, and calls for monitoring and research on fat content in foods. The agreement relies initially on voluntary compliance by the food industry but leaves the door open for formal regulatory measures. Chile and Puerto Rico have adopted similar recommendations, as did Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, and Mexico in a joint agreement signed in Rio de Janeiro in June.
Health-climate investigations win journalism awards
An article on climate-related malaria in a mile-high Bolivian village took first prize in the 4th Latin American Award for Health Journalism contest, sponsored by Red Salud ("Health Network"), a joint project of PAHO, the Communication Initiative, and the Ibero-American Foundation for New Journalism. This year's contest focused on climate change and health. In their winning article, Bolivian journalists Miguel Gómez Balboa (editor of La Prensa's Sunday magazine, which published the article), and Miriam Telma Jemio examined the human costs of a disease normally associated with more tropical climates, highlighting the affected village's lack of adequate health services. Second prize went to Paraguay's Patricia Lima of Última Hora, who examined the role of climate change and environmental degradation in the deaths of at least 31 Paraguayans due to dengue, yellow fever, and hantavirus. Third prize went to Juan Ignacio Manchiola, of the RENA news agency, for an article on the spread of Chagas' disease from rural to urban areas in Argentina. The winners, announced in early October, received awards of $2,000, $1,000, and $500, respectively.
Panama targets indigenous health
Panama has announced a new National Health Plan for Indigenous People aimed at improving the health of some 285,000 native people. Developed with PAHO support, the plan includes free care for pregnant women and babies, reduced healthcare costs for people from poor areas, and a policy of no-rejection of patients. The plan respects indigenous rights, cultural identity, and forms of organization and puts special emphasis on strengthening the Ministry of Health's indigenous health unit, sensitizing health workers, and integrating traditional medicine into medical and health curricula. Primary health care and the Integrated Management of Childhood Illness strategy are key elements of the plan. It was launched Nov. 12 by Minister of Health Rosario Turner and PAHO/WHO Representative Gustavo Vargas before dozens of indigenous leaders.
Workshops examine gender and health
More than 50 health professionals from the Andean countries and Central America attended PAHO workshops on gender and health in Lima, Peru, in October and Guatemala City in November. Participants included professionals from ministries of health and of women and representatives of civil society and development agencies. They learned how to use gender indicators to improve health analysis and programming to better address problems related to gender inequities, such as violence against women,maternal mortality, and teen pregnancy. They developed proposals for national plans of action in gender and health, with suggestions including linkages between ministries of health, education, and women; greater civil society participation; and interprogrammatic working groups to facilitate wider, more successful gender mainstreaming.