• Woman working in a laboratory

Speakers from Latin America and the Caribbean discuss the challenges and current situation of innovation in the healthcare industry in the region

24 Mar 2021

Washington DC, March 18, 2021 (PAHO) - The Pan American Health Organization participated in a side event on “Regional Dialogue between health, industry, science and technology sectors,” held on 17 March, 2021, virtually, within the framework of the fourth meeting of the Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development, organized by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

James Fitzgerald, Director of the Department of Health Systems and Services of PAHO/ WHO, participated in a round table on “Innovation systems and the health industry”. He was accompanied by Pablo Bercovich, Undersecretary of Productivity and Regional Development of Argentina; Clara Ocampo, Director of Knowledge Generation of the Ministry of Science and Technology of Colombia; and Gonzalo Herrera, international consultant in technological innovation. The activity was moderated by Federico Torres, Vice Minister of Science and Technology of Costa Rica. 

During the meeting, speakers discussed the challenges and current situation of innovation in the healthcare industry in Latin America and the Caribbean and shared best practices on public policy. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic generated shortages and inequities in access to pharmaceuticals, vaccines and other essential health technologies that conditioned the response capacities of health systems and limited, or put at risk, the provision of essential health services,” said James Fitzgerald.

The development of the health industry can contribute to improving access to essential health products, such as medicines, medical supplies and equipment and, currently, vaccines. In turn, the development of this industry can improve living conditions and human health, the generation of quality jobs and enhance the research and development ecosystem.

The region has a health manufacturing industry which, with some exceptions, is not well developed and has low levels of technological sophistication, leading to high dependence on external products; according to ECLAC estimates, only 4% of imports of medical products related to the response to COVID-19 in Latin America and the Caribbean originated in the region itself.

“Effective coordination, the presence of a pre-existing productive and scientific-technological base and a mature regulatory system are fundamental factors to promote the development and production of a wide range of health technologies (from personal protective equipment, diagnostic tests, and mechanical ventilators, to the production of vaccines,” said James Fitzgerald.

At the meeting, Fitzgerald mentioned that the regional development of pharmaceutical products, vaccines and other essential health technologies requires the production of a road map and the development of intersectoral priorities in national policy.

“It requires the strengthening of various capacities. Among them, human resources capable of meeting the needs of the different stages of the value chain (in the areas of engineering, biomedical, pharmaceutical and biological sciences), the development of national infrastructure, of clusters to support activities of research, development and production, of institutions with enabling functions for scientific and technological development - such as universities, public health institutes and national institutes - and national health regulatory authorities,” he added.

The implementation of a renewed approach to policies on pharmaceutical products, vaccines and other essential health technologies, the sustainability of interventions in the long term, and regional cooperation are key elements to provide coherence to the regional context and increase development and production capacities in the region.

During the event, speakers also identified elements for the development of the regional cooperation agenda in the health industry.
The side event was organized by the Productive and Business Development Division; International Trade and Integration Division of ECLAC and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Telecommunications of Costa Rica.

The fourth meeting of the Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development was held virtually from 15-18 March under the Presidency of Costa Rica. The objective of the meeting was to analyze progress on regional implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.