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Health Authorities from the Americas Meet to Discuss Regional Health Strategies

Washington, D.C., 26 September 2011 (PAHO/WHO) – Health authorities from throughout the Americas opened the 51st meeting of the Directing Council of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) praising the organization’s management in recent years and pointing to the challenges it faces in different areas of health.

In opening the meeting, PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses referred to ongoing public health challenges and threats and to the Directing Council meeting as an occasion to “correct our course . . . since this is the only way that we will achieve tangible benefits for the health of our people.”

She made reference to a variety of strategies and plans of action that will be considered during the meeting, adding that the challenges to attaining the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are among a number of commitments that must be met, including those made by the Region’s leaders at the recently concluded United Nations High-level Meeting on Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs).

An adequate response to these challenges requires concerted action on the social determinants of health as well as a constant process of innovation, Dr. Roses noted. Within this framework, the regional consultation on reform of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Strategy and Plan of Action on eHealth are “fundamental aspects of this constant reinvention,” she said.

Dr. Roses concluded her remarks by noting, “This capacity to reinvent ourselves, to use the lessons we have learned to respond to new challenges, to provide early responses, to work tirelessly to close the gaps, to constantly build on our achievements and fight to sustain them, along the audacity to imagine, and, to a certain extent, anticipate the future, has long been a distinctive characteristic of the way our Organization works.”

WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan expressed her appreciation for the Region’s solidarity in rebuilding Haiti’s health infrastructure “virtually from scratch,” while adding that “the continuing threat of cholera adds urgency to this task.” She singled out the Americas as “the region that is making the greatest headway in addressing inequities, thanks to your unwavering commitment to primary health care.”

Turning to the issue of tobacco control, Dr. Chan praised efforts under way in the Americas, observing that “bearing the financial burden of commercial and investment arbitrations is difficult for any country, but most especially so for a small country like Uruguay.” She urged countries to not “cave in” to the tobacco industry, adding that “if one country gives in to these scare tactics, others will fall like dominoes.”

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius joined Dr. Chan in recognizing the Government of Uruguay for its efforts to promote smoke-free environments and urged other countries to join in similar efforts. Referring to the discussions held at the U.N. High-level Meeting on NCDs, she told ministers of health that her country “is committed to learning from our partners across the Region and around the globe,” adding: “Unless we do a better job preventing and treating chronic diseases, the cost will continue to rise for all of us.”

Secretary of Health Salomón Chertorivski Woldenberg of Mexico, which held the presidency of the Directing Council until today, also noted the importance of the recent U.N. meeting on NCDs, while praising Caribbean countries for their initiative in raising the political profile of NCDs and noting the need for international collaboration in confronting the challenge they represent.

“The budgetary constraints to improving public health in the Region demand that we continue to develop innovative, effective, and sustainable strategies; invest more in programs for disease prevention and health promotion; and take advantage of the lessons learned and interventions that have already proven successful,” said Chertorivski.

He also noted the importance of implementing the International Health Regulations and of “communication and concerted action among countries to protect global public health.”

Assistant Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS) Albert Ramdin urged continued collaboration between the OAS and PAHO in linking the Region’s political and health agendas and putting joint policies into practice. He said democracy and development are not only interdependent, they reinforce each other, and health policies are an important part of this process.

Kei Kawabata, Manager of the Inter-American Development Bank’s (IDB) Social Sector, praised PAHO/WHO for mobilizing commitments from different sectors to promote and improve health in the Americas. He said that taking the subject of NCDs to the United Nations had been an important accomplishment and that the political declaration should be followed up with action.

“We now face the challenge of ensuring that this declaration translates into concrete proposals and effective actions to improve health conditions for the Region’s population,” said Kawabata. She noted that the IDB considers its joint work with PAHO as essential to supporting the institutions’ member countries in their implementation of effective policies. Shee noted health is one of the IDB’s seven priority areas of action and that it is working to improve health indicators in the Region over the next decade.

The agenda for this week’s Directing Council meeting, which lasts through Sept. 30, also includes:

  • Strategy and plan of action on urban health
  • Strategy and plan of action on eHealth
  • Plan of action to reduce maternal mortality
  • Plan of action on epilepsy
  • Strategy and plan of action on climate change
  • Plan of action on road safety
  • Plan of action to reduce the harmful use of alcohol
  • Strategy and plan of action on malaria
  • Report on the United Nations High Level Meeting on Noncommunicable Diseases
Other events this week include a Sept. 27 panel of experts on safe motherhood featuring Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO; Dr. Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of U.N. Women; and Her Royal Highness the Infanta Cristina of Spain. In addition, PAHO’s International Health Program will celebrate its 25th anniversary and a new publication on the elimination of rubella and congenital rubella syndrome will be launched.

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