Washington, D.C., 31 January 2013 (PAHO/WHO)- Dr. Carissa F. Etienne took office today as the new Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), pledging to work in close partnership with PAHO member countries to extend the benefits of health progress to all people in the Americas. Dr. Etienne’s highest priority will be accelerating progress toward universal access to quality health care.
“Of the many opportunities and challenges this Organization and our Member States face, one goal stands atop all the others. It is providing universal access to health care across the Americas,” she said. “No other single achievement would contribute more to ensuring a long, dignified and productive life.”
Dr. Etienne, formerly Assistant Director-General at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, was sworn in as the 10th Director of PAHO. At 110 years, PAHO is the world’s oldest international health agency and serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of WHO. She succeeds Dr. Mirta Roses Periago, of Argentina, who served 10 years as Director.
In her speech, Dr. Etienne noted the impressive health progress in the Americas, with major gains in life expectancy, declining infant mortality, high rates of immunization, improved nutrition, expanded access to health care and health education, and newly available medicines and health technologies.
Dr. Etienne noted the impressive health progress in the Americas, with major gains in life expectancy, declining infant mortality, high rates of immunization, improved nutrition, expanded access to health care and health education, and newly available medicines and health technologies. Moreover, “more people have access to information about their health and healthy living -- to new technologies that can educate them as well as to those that can treat and cure them.”
Dr. Etienne noted, however, that progress has not been experienced equally, especially by the poor and most vulnerable populations. “While their needs are greatest, their voices often go unheard,” she said.
New tools and technologies can “help us listen, share and communicate,” said Dr. Etienne. She urged the formation of new partnerships to use evolving technologies such as social media and e-health to advance health care.
“These conditions converge to create a unique moment for health in the Americas. We have a powerful potential to create positive change in health. Just as important, health can be a driving force for change. Improved health and access to health care will translate into stronger economies, more cohesive societies, and in nations better able to integrate and compete in the global world,” said Dr. Etienne.
WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said in a video message from Geneva, “I have lost my Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Services, but the Pan American Health Organization has gained an experienced leader.”
Dr. Etienne previously served as PAHO’s Assistant Director in 2003-2008, in charge of its core technical cooperation programs in Health Systems and Services, Technology and Health Services Delivery, Health Surveillance and Disease Management, Family and Community Health, and Sustainable Development and Environmental Health.
In her native Dominica, she served as Coordinator of the National AIDS Program, Disaster Coordinator for the Ministry of Health, Chair of the National Advisory Council for HIV/AIDS, and Director of Primary Health Care Services, among other posts. She holds degrees in medicine and surgery from the University of the West Indies as well as a master’s in community health in developing countries from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
PAHO works with its member countries to improve the health and the quality of life of all people in the Americas. In addition to serving as the Regional Office for the Americas of WHO, PAHO is the specialized health agency of the Inter-American System.
Dr. Carissa F. Etienne
Dr. Carissa F. Etienne was elected Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) by the PAHO Member States on 19 September 2012 and will begin her five-year term on 1 February 2013. From March 2008 until 1 November 2012, Dr. Etienne served as Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Services at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland. Prior to that, as Assistant Director of PAHO from July 2003 to February 2008, she led five technical areas—Health Systems and Services, Technology and Health Services Delivery, Health Surveillance and Disease Management, Family and Community Health, and Sustainable Development and Environmental Health.
During her tenures at WHO and PAHO, Dr. Etienne led the efforts to renew primary health care and to strengthen health systems based on primary health care, promoting integration and improved functioning of health systems. She has also spearheaded policy directions for reducing health inequalities and advancing health for all through universal coverage, people-centered care, the integration of health into broader public policies, and inclusive and participatory health leadership.
The World Health Report 2010, Health systems financing: the path to universal coverage, was produced under the direction of Dr. Etienne and WHO’s Deputy Director-General. The report is recognized worldwide for providing an agenda for action by countries at all stages of development to move more quickly and in a sustainable manner towards universal coverage, while proposing ways in which the international community can better support efforts to achieve universal coverage and improve health outcomes. Dr. Etienne has also led the WHO global agenda to support universal access to safe and efficacious medical products and the development of a global code of practice for the international recruitment of health personnel. She also chaired the International Health Partnership (IHP+) initiative, which seeks to commit partners to work together and put into practice international principles for effective aid and development cooperation in the health sector.
In her native Dominica, Dr. Etienne began her career as a medical officer at the Princess Margaret Hospital, where she eventually became the Chief Medical Officer. She has also served in other high-level posts in Dominica, including Coordinator of the National AIDS Program, Disaster Coordinator for the Ministry of Health, Chair of the National Advisory Council for HIV/AIDS, and Director of Primary Health Care Services.
Dr. Etienne received her medical degree (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery- MBBS) from the University of the West Indies, Jamaica, and her Master of Science degree in community health in developing countries from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of London.
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