PAHO and ECLAC discuss health, social and economic impact of COVID-19

Woman working at the market

Washington, D.C. September 22, 2021 (PAHO) – Leaders from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) met today to discuss actions to strengthen the health, social and economic recovery in the region from the COVID-19 pandemic.

During a side-event on the margins of PAHO’s 59th Directing Council [today], entitled “A Comprehensive Response in Health and the Economy to the Protracted COVID-19 Pandemic,” the two entities discussed short- and medium-term recommendations to counter the broader social impacts of the pandemic, such as poverty and unemployment that will continue for many years.  

“The need for better articulation between health and the economy as central components to address the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic has been made clear by the profound social effects that the health crisis unleashed,” PAHO Assistant Director Dr. Jarbas Barbosa said. “It is impossible to approach the issue from a purely public health perspective.”

Measures discussed include an increase in public spending on health with a focus on primary health care; an intersectoral focus that addresses the social determinants of health; effective vaccine coverage; increased regional capacity for the development of health technologies; and improved regional and global collaboration in health.

 While PAHO recommends that public expenditure on health reaches 6% of GDP, countries in the region spend an average of just 3.7% - far less than what is required to ensure quality, timely health care for all.

The Executive Secretary of ECLAC, Alicia Bárcena, highlighted the increase in inequality, poverty, informal employment and a lack of social protection that has occurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and called for concrete proposals about where public expenditure should be directed.

"It is urgent to promote a transformative recovery, emphasizing the investment in sustainability and equality,” she said.

Latin America and the Caribbean remain among the hardest hit regions by the pandemic, with over 44.8 million cases and 1.4 million deaths.  COVID-19 has also affected the lives and livelihoods of people in the region, leading to an increase in the poverty rate of 7 percentage points, according to ECLAC projections. This could transform into a humanitarian crisis if urgent measures are not taken.

The side event also counted with the participation of Christopher Tufton, President of PAHO’s 59th Directing Council and the Jamaican Minister of Health and Wellness; Enrique Paris, Minister of Health of Chile; and Michael Pearson, Head of Canada’s delegation to the 59th Directing Council.

PAHO and ECLAC have a longstanding collaboration and have since 2020 worked together to better understand the link between health and the economy as a central determinant to addressing the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. In July 2021, the organizations also launched a joint report to highlight the structural changes necessary to ensure the right to health in the Americas.