Improving Child and Adolescent Health in the Americas with a Focus on Equity: PAHO Director

Boys in the water

Washington, DC, November 17, 2023 (PAHO)- Following the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Americas, there is a need to prioritize and improve child and adolescent health and development in countries in the region, the Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr. Jarbas Barbosa said in an event today, emphasizing the importance of an approach focused on equity towards this end.

"We are still faced with the fact that 13 out of every 1,000 children born in the Americas die before their fifth birthday, with significant disparities between and within countries. In addition, nearly 4 out of every 100 adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19 gave birth in the past year in our region. These figures are not mere statistics; they are urgent calls to action," Dr. Barbosa said today during the opening of the Regional Dissemination Webinar: Lancet Series on "Optimizing Child and Adolescent Health and Development."

The virtual meeting organized by PAHO discussed the findings and recommendations presented in the Lancet Series 2022 on optimizing child and adolescent health and development. It also addressed the importance of modeling health trajectories during the first 20 years of life, with the aim of improving health outcomes and the overall well-being of the population.

"Investment in the first two decades of life is an opportunity for optimal efficiency in human development. The early years represent a crucial stage in the development of social and emotional skills and is when the human brain experiences its greatest rate of growth and plasticity," said the PAHO Director.

In this regard, he stressed that health and development trajectories that shape later stages of life can be shaped during this period, emphasizing the need for "greater investment in primary care-based health systems that prioritize and actively contribute to health outcomes at this crucial stage."

In conclusion, Dr. Barbosa called for reinforced commitment to the health and integral development of children and adolescents in order to ensure "that their journey is not just about survival, but that they have the opportunity to thrive and reach their maximum development potential.”

Also participating in the webinar were academics and health experts from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health (United States), the International Center for Equity in Health at the Federal University of Pelotas (Brazil), the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health (United States), and the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto (Canada).