Washington D.C. 12 April 2023 – The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director, Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, today called for greater investment in public health in the Americas to ensure health systems are better able to respond to the demands of a future emergency while maintaining essential services.
The PAHO Director spoke at the Financing for Health & Pandemics in a Multi-Crisis World event, focused on lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and measures that must be taken to improve health system preparedness for future emergencies.
The panel discussion, held at Georgetown University, also included the participation of Winnie Byanyima, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UNAIDS, Joanne Carter, Executive Director of RESULTS, and Justice Nonvignon, Head of the Health Economics Unit at Africa CDC.
During the discussion, Dr. Barbosa highlighted that while countries of the Americas were able to direct more funds towards emergency response at the height of COVID-19, regular spending on public health remains far below the recommended 6% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), leaving the region’s health systems insufficiently prepared for a future pandemic.
“COVID-19 had a huge impact on Latin America and the Caribbean, not only in terms of cases and deaths, but also on routine services,” Dr. Barbosa said.
“Progress in addressing maternal mortality has been set back ten years. Hundreds of thousands of children have not received routine vaccinations. People have experienced delays in cancer treatment. People with hypertension – one of the biggest killers in our region – have been unable to get their medicines. This is not sustainable.”
“On the positive side, this is the first time we had everyone’s attention on public health,” the PAHO Director said. “Health must now be at the center of economic recovery, ensuring sustainable development,” he added.
For Dr. Barbosa, the approval of the new pandemic instrument at the 2024 World Health Assembly will present countries with a unique opportunity to address some of the failures experienced during COVID-19.
These include unequal access to personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators and vaccines, which posed a significant challenge to countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Solidarity, the Director added, was “one of the first victims of the pandemic”, and in the future, must be translated into action. “As we discuss the new pandemic instrument, we cannot go by market rules, where rich countries get access first and developing countries only 6-8 months later,” he said.
“Well financed, universal health systems based on Primary Health Care, where we can reduce out of pocket expenditure and address other barriers to access is the only way to ensure the right to health in our region,” he concluded.