Health Authorities from the Americas Share What "Health for All" Means in their Countries

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Geneva, 23 May 2018 (PAHO/WHO)- The plenary meeting of the 71st World Health Assembly was the setting where health authorities from the Region of the Americas used words and concrete examples to define what "Health for all: Commit to universal health coverage" means.

Nearly 30 delegations from the Americas took the floor at the plenary meeting over the three days of the Assembly. A summary of the Region's last presentations follows:

Paraguay: New technologies bring more health services to remote areas

The Minister of Health of Paraguay, Carlos Morínigo, said thataccess to health for all people is a strategic objective in his country and is a condition precedent to the attainment of other development objectives. He said that we must not only invest in the health system, but innovate as well.

"In Paraguay, we are using new technologies to increase the health services provided in the most remote areas. Telemedicine makes timely diagnostic resolution possible, and we are reaching populations living in conditions of vulnerability in real time. Investing in the objective of achieving universal health coverage and access not only eliminates health inequity, but social inequity gaps as well, and improves people's quality of life," he said.

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St. Kitts and Nevis: Technical support needed to achieve universal health

After emphasizing the urgent need for universal health coverage on his island, the Minister of Health of Saint Kitts and Nevis, Eugene Hamilton, said that to be able to offer such coverage, his country needs sustained technical assistance. He asked the Pan American Health Organization and CARPHA to "walk this journey with us, help us to build human and institutional capacity now, right now. Help us walk the talk," the minister pleaded.

Hamilton pointed out that although the island was not hit by the hurricanes that ravaged several neighboring countries last year, two years ago there was a drought that reduced crop production by 32%. "This means that we [have] not graduated; we are vulnerable," he said.

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Nicaragua: Consolidating a family and community health model

The Nicaraguan Minister of Health, Carlos Sáenz Torres, described how the health system in his country used to be based on a family and community health model. Universal health coverage is based on a national policy that seeks to ensure the right to health, with an emphasis on promotion and disease prevention, and a participatory approach by the people themselves.

Sáenz Torres said that this system has made it possible for the country to achieve an immunization coverage rate over 95% against at least 16 diseases. Several diseases have been eliminated, and there has been a significant reduction in maternal mortality. He added that they are looking to integrate ancestral medicine so that health effectively reaches all people.

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Barbados: External factors also shape health on the small islands

Universal health coverage is a call to action to ensure that our populations have access to health, said the Chief Medical Officer of Barbados, Dr. Kenneth George. Health is one element in the economic development of countries as well as people, he added.

"The small islands recognize that health is also shaped by forces outside of the sector," he explained. Imported food brings more processed products that may impact high obesity rates, particularly in children. In regard to noncommunicable diseases, the health systems should change their focus from curative to prevention. Health systems should be people-centered and must have a sustainable economic model, a task that Barbados has now undertaken, Dr. George said.

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Haiti: Committed to universal health beyond the challenges

The Health Minister of Haiti, Marie Gréta Roy Clément raised a series of questions on whether universal health is possible when there are no effective and well-managed systems that meet health needs, or when access to medicines and technology continues to be restricted for many countries, or when there are not enough trained human resources, or when international cooperation funds are distributed in a way that does not take those needs into account. 

Roy Clément said that her country is committed to the process of achieving universal health beyond these questions, and is looking for ways to implement reforms to provide primary care that can be accessed by everyone, as well as to strengthen the health system so that it is resilient. She said that universal health can be a tangible reality in countries with epidemiological profiles like hers. 

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Guyana: Gaps in human resources for health impacts achieving the goal of universal health

Guyana is working to ensure that people not only have universal health coverage, but also access to health, said that country's Minister of Health Vonda Lawrence. As we work on increasing access to health services, we must also work with the determinants of health, she added.

Lawrence explained that her country faces challenges in achieving universal health, most importantly the shortage of human resources for health. The number of doctors continue to be low and specialties are concentrated. All of this affects services, she said. Despite this challenge, Guyana continues to move forward in designing its national plan to achieve universal health. 

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Saint Lucia: Achieve universal health by 2019

The Minister of Health of Saint Lucia, Mary Isaac, said that her government is firmly committed and taking immediate actions to protect the health of all people on the island. She explained that at this time primary health care is accessible to everyone and the country has competent, well-trained health workers. 

However, the people most in need often remain outside of access to those services, and they only access services as they arrive and only if there are resources to treat them. For this reason, the minister said, the country is seeking national health insurance with the assistance of the private sector and international agencies, so that health for all can become a reality by 2019. 

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Saint Vincent and the Grenadines: The island's vulnerability to natural disasters and their effect on health

The Health Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Robert Luke, gave an overview of the actions taken by his country to achieve universal health, including setting up a treatment and diagnosis clinic in rural areas, which is a big step forward in achieving health for all. He added that they are working on making health services resilient and able to keep functioning in the event of a natural disaster. 

The island's vulnerability to hurricanes and other natural disasters associated with climate change, which create other health problems such as vector-borne diseases, represent a challenge for the island and for strengthening universal health coverage, Luke said. 

Watch the full speech here