Although much has been done over the last 110 years to improve health in the Americas and achieve prosperity in the Region, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), its member governments, the community, and their leaders still need to strive to make health more equitable, said the Director of PAHO, Dr. Mirta Roses Periago, on October 17 at McMaster University.
The Director’s speech was delivered in connection with the 45th session of the PAHO Advisory Committee on Health Research (ACHR), which meets until October 19 in Ontario, Canada. When we think about all the changes that have occurred in the Americas in the last 110 years, said Dr. Roses, we can take comfort in the fact that the countries of the Region have collectively succeeded in making this part of the world healthier and more prosperous. However, she admonished, recent facts about the health of the population in the Americas and its determinants warn us that the Pan American Health Organization, working shoulder-to-shoulder with the governments, their leaders, their communities, and our allies and partners, must urgently redouble efforts to make this Region a more equitable and sustainable home for its inhabitants today and in the future.
Dr. Roses reviewed the main conclusions from the latest edition of Health in the Americas, which points out that the Region is going through major demographic changes, reflected in growth of its urban areas, the total population, and the proportion of older adults. Life expectancy in Latin America and the Caribbean has risen from 29 years in 1900 to 74 years in 2010. Today 98% of newborns live to celebrate their first birthday, while a hundred years ago this proportion was only 75%. However, the PAHO report also notes that inequities continue to exist both between and within countries, between urban areas and the interior.
After reviewing progress and challenges for health in the Americas, Dr. Roses declared that the Region can be expected to reduce its inequalities and inequities in the coming years.
The leaders and citizens of the Region, she went on to say, can be expected to develop inclusive public policies, make greater investments in social and health protection, and strive toward achieving universal access to quality health services. They can also be expected to promote human security and sustainable development, improve the distribution of health workers, and adopt intersectoral approaches to addressing the determinants of health. She sees this effort as “Pan Americanism in Action” for the next 110 years.
Again referring to Health in the Americas, Dr. Roses mentioned, as examples, a few of the Region’s health achievements in recent years. For instance, while there has been an increase in life expectancy, differences between the countries of the Region continue to exist, and some of them still have life expectancy levels that are below average.
Despite these gains, Dr. Roses added, at the same time—in sharp contrast— inequities continue to exist in terms of both health outcomes and the social indicators. She cited a report of the World Health Organization Commission on Social Determinants of Health, which concludes that health disparities can only be reduced or eliminated by acting on determinants across the social spectrum.
Dr. Roses gave this speech at an event organized by McMaster University in conjunction with the PAHO Advisory Committee on Health Research.