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Washington, D.C., 9 May 2012 (PAHO/WHO) — The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Organization of American States (OAS) have signed an agreement under which the two organizations will work together to reduce demand for illicit drugs in the countries of the Americas, through coordinated technical cooperation based on human rights, public health and scientific evidence.

"There is no single solution to the problem of drugs. Our organizations recognize that, in order to make real progress, we need to balance policies to reduce both supply and demand, consistent with national needs and conditions and protecting and promoting public health," said PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses Periago, after signing the document during the opening of the 51st regular session of the OAS’s Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD), on May 9. "Health is a basic right that should be at the center of all public policies, including public policies on illegal drugs."

The new agreement commits PAHO and the OAS to "work together in the area of health, which is key for reducing demand," said OAS Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza. He noted that during the 6th Summit of the Americas, held in Cartagena, Colombia, in April, the region’s heads of state asked the OAS to prepare a report on the results of existing drug policies in the Americas and options for the future. "We want to share this work with all the agencies of the Inter-American system," he said.

Also present for the signing of the MOU was Minister of Health of Costa Rica Dr. Daisy María Corrales, who was in Washington for a working visit at PAHO.

Under the agreement, PAHO and the OAS will establish a Joint Regional Cooperation Program for the Reduction of Drug Demand, which will carry out activities for institution building, training and technical assistance in the countries of the Americas. The program will support the development of public health policies to reduce demand for drugs in the region, facilitate the integration of national public health networks and information systems on drugs, and strengthen early detection in primary health care. The program will also promote research on demand reduction and capacity-building in the areas of services management and human resources.

Success in these joint efforts "is not guaranteed at the outset," noted Dr. Roses. "The interest shown by governments, cooperating partners, and representatives of different sectors of society involved in these issues must translate into strong political and financial support for the Joint Regional Program if it is going to be able to achieve its goals.”  

Dr. Roses noted that current drug policies "are being reviewed" in the region and that PAHO and the OAS both have a mandate to provide up-to-date scientific information to help governments make decisions on "a more solid basis." "Only through an open and informed debate can we generate ideas that are innovative and that can be evaluated," she said.

PAHO’s work in the areas of tobacco control and harmful use of alcohol provides a basis for addressing the issue of illicit drugs from a public health perspective. “They are all interrelated, with common risk factors, and the same public health principles apply in addressing them,” said Dr. Roses. “No doubt, by working more closely, our organizations can facilitate an integrated approach to these issues, which is already being done in a number of countries."

She added that the agreement with CICAD/OAS reaffirms “PAHO’s commitment to protecting the right to health and other rights of people affected by substance use disorders, and we are ready to provide support for countries’ efforts in this area."  

CICAD President Rafael Bielsa called for a more effective approach and a more "reflective and open spirit” in addressing the problem of illegal drugs. He said CICAD will examine the current situation of drug trafficking in the Americas and its impact on regional safety.

In 2010, PAHO’s 50th Directing Council approved a regional public health strategy to respond to health problems associated with the use of psychoactive substances in the Americas. In 2011, the 51st PAHO Directing Council approved an action plan that includes substance use as a public health priority in countries’ national health plans.

PAHO, which celebrates its 110th anniversary this year, is the oldest public health organization in the world. It works with its member countries to improve the health and the quality of life of the people of the Americas. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of WHO.

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Last Updated on Friday, 11 May 2012 06:24

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