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Washington, D.C., 15 February 2013 (PAHO/WHO) – The director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, said one of her top priorities as head of the world’s oldest international health agency will be to "reduce the barriers that hinder access to health for people of African and indigenous descent” in the Americas, as part of her commitment to universal access to health care.

During a Feb. 15 meeting with representatives of the Organization for Ethnic Community Development (ODECO) of Honduras and the secretariat of the World Summit for African Descendants, Etienne said that, as a native of the Caribbean island of Dominica, she shares a "common history" with other Afro-descendants and is committed to working with them to eliminate barriers related to cultural diversity.

She added that "focusing on universal coverage and access to health is a way to address problems of stigma and discrimination.”

Celeo Álvarez Casildo, president of ODECO and executive secretary of PCMA, noted that PAHO/WHO had provided important support for the First World Summit of African Descendants, which took place in August 2011 in La Ceiba, Honduras. He said the organization he represents will continue "to work closely with PAHO to construct better living conditions for our people."

More than 150 million people of African descent live in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to recent estimates. In health terms, they face greater risks throughout their lifetimes: Afro-descendant babies are more likely to die, adolescent girls are more likely to get pregnant, mothers face higher risks during childbirth, adults have more health problems, and adult men face higher rates of homicide and HIV infection.

The participants in this week’s meeting are representatives of civil society organizations and universities in Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Spain, Honduras, Panama, Peru and Puerto Rico that are part of the secretariat of the World Summit for African Descendants, which is promoting the Third International West African Congress, which will take place on 23-28 September 2013 in Nairobi, Kenya.

 

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