PAHO TODAY          The Newsletter of the Pan American Health Organization   -    November 2005

Directing Council

Ministers of Health of the Americas Set Policies for 2006 and Beyond

The 46th meeting of PAHO's Directing Council, held Sept. 26-30, brought together ministers of health and high-level delegates from all the region's countries to assess the health needs of Latin America and the Caribbean and to set policy for the year ahead.

The ministers held discussions and passed resolutions calling on the countries of the region to step up public health efforts in areas ranging from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria to maternal and child health, primary health care, immunization, and blood safety. The ministers also expressed support for PAHO and its work, approving its proposed budget for 2006-07 and endorsing its efforts toward institutional strengthening.

In her opening address, PAHO Director Mirta Roses noted that in the Americas and throughout the world, there is growing awareness of the importance of health to development. She urged the ministers to capitalize on that fact.

"The countries of the entire world recognized the centrality of health in human development when they established eight Millennium Development Goals for the year 2015, six of which are related to key achievements in health," Roses said. "The budgets of all our countries are finite, and many different interests compete for a portion of those budgets. In this context, we must defend investment in health."

Global neighbors

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt, in his address to the council, acknowledged international expressions of solidarity after two major hurricanes struck the United States earlier in September. He said hurricanes were a reminder that "bad things can happen very fast. We must constantly reassess the state of our preparedness for natural disasters as well as terrorist attacks and disease outbreaks." He said a potential influenza pandemic was "one of our greatest threats" and should be a top concern for countries in the PAHO region and around the world.

"When it comes to influenza, we live in a global community, neighbor to neighbor, because a threat against one nation is a threat against the entire world," Leavitt said. "Our task now is to make sure when the first influenza pandemic of the 21st century strikes, as it surely will, that the global community is ready."

In a special briefing on immunization, PAHO Assistant Director Carissa Etienne said that vaccines were key to the region's ability to meet the Millennium Development Goals on reducing child and maternal mortality. She cited important advances in immunization in the region, including the eradication of polio and measles and progress toward eliminating congenital rubella syndrome. But she said that continuing progress required equitable access to immunization, and particularly to new vaccines that are emerging in the fast-developing field.

"Significant advances are occurring in the field of immunization, and we must make these new technologies available to all, considering issues of price, production, and availability," said Etienne.

Minister of Health of Peru Pilar Mazzetti Soler echoed Etienne's concerns and called on her colleagues to ensure the financial sustainability of immunization programs.

"It is crucial for us in the health sector to strengthen our links with ministers of finance and those responsible for budgets in our countries, because we have very important times ahead of us in terms of new vaccines."

New committee

During one of its last sessions, the PAHO Directing Council elected three new members to the nine-member PAHO Executive Committee. Antigua and Barbuda, Chile, and Panama were elected to replace outgoing committee members Dominica, Paraguay, and the United States. The PAHO Executive Committee meets twice a year and acts as a working group in preparation for the annual Directing Council or the once-every-four-years Pan American Sanitary Conference.

Directing Council Highlights

PAHO's 46th Directing Council approved a number of resolutions calling for new action in support of public health priorities in the region. In some of its key actions, the Directing Council:

  • Approved a new regional framework for halting and beginning to reverse the HIV epidemic and other sexually transmitted infections.
  • Pledged to make tuberculosis control a priority, expanding use of the DOTS strategy and allocating sufficient resources to fight TB.
  • Called on member countries to adopt a new Regional Plan of Action for Transfusion Safety 2006-2010 and promote wide participation in both the public and the private sectors in the plan's implementation.
  • Adopted the PAHO Gender Equality Policy, aimed at overcoming gender inequalities in health and development in the hemisphere, and urged member countries to implement the policy in collaboration with all relevant government sectors, the United Nations system, the inter-American system, and civil society stakeholders.
  • Approved a biennial program budget for PAHO at a zero-percent increase, calling on Member States to make voluntary contributions to support priorities identified in an alternative budget scenario based on a 2-percent increase.

Related articles:
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Annual Report Spotlights PAHO Achievements
Don Francisco, PAHO Team Up To Fight Obesity
Malaria: Step Up the Fight
New Focus on Primary Care

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