PAHO updates essential public health functions for countries of the Americas

woman receiving care in a hospital

Renewed roadmap aims to address health system weaknesses and eliminate barriers to access to care. In the Americas, nearly 30% of the population does not seek care when they need it. 

Washington, DC, December 11, 2020 (PAHO) - The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) today urged the countries of the Americas to renew the essential public health functions (EPHF) to provide quality public health services and actions, to address epidemics and to advance toward universal health. 

"This (COVID-19) pandemic has clearly shown us that there is need for stronger health systems that promote and protect population health," said PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne. "I want to urge countries to invest in the Essential Public Health Functions, and across all sectors, as investments have been insufficient in the development of core public health capacities to respond to current challenges”. 

As part of Universal Health Day, celebrated every December 12 to raise awareness of the importance of access to health as an essential human right, PAHO launched the publication The Essential Public Health Functions in the Americas: A Renewal for the 21st Century. Conceptual Framework and Description.  


Essential Public Health Functions in the Americas


In the Americas, nearly 30% of the population (or 279 million people) does not seek care when they need it , due to barriers that hinder their access to services and quality care, which is why 1.7 million people in the region die each year.   

Etienne warned about the re-emergence of communicable diseases such as measles and tuberculosis, and the increasing prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases and antimicrobial resistance. She also warned about the emergence of new threats such as COVID-19, Ebola, West Nile virus and Zika. Aging and new epidemiological and socioeconomic conditions have led to an increase in noncommunicable diseases, mental illness, disabilities, traffic injuries, and domestic and interpersonal violence.  

"These are now the foremost health problems - exacerbated by poverty, inequities and the COVID-19 pandemic- requiring an intersectoral approach and the strengthening of social protection and health systems across our Region," she said. 

The eleven essential functions of health systems are based on assessing the health status of the population and ill health factors, then developing policies to strengthen them and address social determinants. They also include allocating necessary resources and ensuring access to all public health interventions and services. 

The essential functions are framed as institutional capacities that countries should strengthen for appropriate public health action. Civil society and key actors should also participate in policy development, and not be limited to facilitating service delivery. Interventions by various sectors to address the social determinants of health are seen as increasingly relevant.  

The renewal of the EPHF seeks to help overcome “the fragility of health systems in responding to the needs of the population," said the director of PAHO, who encouraged authorities to prioritize public health and increase its funding. 


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