Panama City, March 17, 2023 (PAHO) – In his first country visit since taking office, the Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Jarbas Barbosa, met with the President of Republic of Panama, Laurentino Cortizo Cohen, and other national authorities to advance health priorities of regional importance.
During the meeting, President Cortizo Cohen and the PAHO Director discussed the need to strengthen regional manufacturing capacities for medicines and health technologies, the digital transformation of health systems and actions to mitigate the health impact of climate change, among other topics.
“Panama is a key PAHO Member State and strategic partner for the region,” Dr. Barbosa said, highlighting the country’s leadership in the fight against non-communicable disease (NCDs). “Panama’s policies to reduce tobacco, implement the HEARTS initiative for the management of cardiovascular diseases and efforts to improve front-package labeling can serve as an example to other countries,” the Director said.
President Cortizo Cohen thanked the PAHO Director for the “excellent relationship” between Panama and PAHO and commended the Organization’s vital support to the country during the COVID-19 pandemic. He also highlighted PAHO’s support in the digital transformation of Panama’s health system and underscored Panama’s strategic and logistical capacities for the distribution and possible future production of medicines in the region.
During the meeting, the President and the Director also discussed key lessons from the pandemic, which brought to the fore the need for more equitable access to health supplies, medicines and vaccines among countries.
The PAHO Director emphasized the importance of active regional participation in the International Negotiating Body (INB) for the new pandemic instrument, which will be put forward for adoption by World Health Organization (WHO) Member States in 2024. “We have a unique window of opportunity to include equitable access into an international agreement,” Dr. Barbosa said. “If we do not use it, we may be in the same devastating situation in the next health emergency, where market rules prevent access to life-saving vaccines to smaller or less economically powerful countries.”
During his visit to Panama, Dr. Barbosa also met with other national authorities and partners. On Thursday, he met with Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Vladimir Franco, where they discussed support to the health of migrants, among other topics.
The PAHO Director also met with Dr. Luis Francisco Sucre, Panama’s Minister of Health, to discuss topics such as advancing telehealth, strengthening primary care to also cover NCD’s, and response to infectious disease outbreaks, such as malaria. “PAHO will continue to work closely with Panama to advance these areas,” Dr. Barbosa said.
The PAHO Director visited the Gorgas Memorial Laboratory (Instituto Conmemorativo Gorgas de Estudios de la Salud - ICGES), where he met Director Juan Miguel Pascale. He thanked him for the institute’s assistance to Central American countries in tracking COVID-19 variants during the pandemic, adding that the hopes to enhance collaboration to strengthen regional surveillance capacity for other pathogens and antimicrobial resistance.
Dr. Barbosa’s visit also included discussions with the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Panama, Ana Patricia Graça, and with representatives of several UN agencies with which PAHO collaborates closely on the ground, including UNAIDS, FAO, UNICEF, UNDP, UNFPA and OCHA. “Health is key to development,” the Director said, underscoring that PAHO will continue working with UN partners to “seek innovative solutions to reduce inequalities and advance the Sustainable Development Goal.”
Panama became a PAHO Member State in 1947, and shortly after signed a cooperation agreement for technical assistance to support national public health projects.