As prepared for delivery
9 March 2023
Hello and thank you for joining my first media briefing as Director of the Pan American Health Organization. Journalists are essential to enable PAHO to achieve important health goals. I am glad to see so many of you connected. I thank you for your support in the past years and intend to continue this open dialogue with you moving forward.
As I take the helm as PAHO Director, a primary focus of my tenure is to help countries of the Americas move past the COVID-19 pandemic.
Just over three years ago, on 26 February 2020, the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Latin America, in Brazil.
Since then, the Region of the Americas had over 190.3 million cases (25% of global total) and over 2.9 million deaths, (almost 43% of the global total).
No country in the world was fully prepared for the impact of this virus. This is certainly true for the Americas, a region marked by social and economic inequalities between and within countries.
While we are not out of the woods, we are in a much better place. Today, COVID-19 incidence rates are now 20-30 times lower than a year ago.
PAHO played a key role in helping countries mitigate the impacts of the pandemic, providing technical guidance, vaccines, diagnostic tests, oxygen, medical treatment and other lifesaving resources. To identify a few examples:
But COVID-19 is still with us, and the virus has yet to settle into a predictable pattern. In the past month alone, we saw over 1.5 million new cases in our region, and 17,000 deaths.
We cannot be complacent. As we learn to live with this virus, countries must:
We have the tools to end the COVID-19 emergency, by strengthening surveillance and data, and increasing vaccination coverage, with equity always at the center of our efforts.
Our region experienced setbacks over the past three years that have revealed and/or exacerbated weaknesses in our health systems – in the detection and treatment of diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV; in testing and treatment for non-communicable diseases; and in declining rates for routine vaccination.
Three years on, the pandemic presents us with a unique opportunity to place health firmly where it belongs – front and center of the Sustainable Development Agenda.
We must focus on recovering losses and on rebuilding resilient health systems that work for everyone, as well as being better prepared for future health threats.
This will require increased public spending to expand access to quality health services, especially the most vulnerable populations; investments in primary health care; and building capacities to ensure a sufficient and appropriately trained health workforce.
PAHO stands ready to support our countries in the Americas, to learn from and apply the lessons we have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Jarbas Barbosa