Geneva, 24 May 2023 (PAHO/WHO) – The Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, has urged Ministers of Health and high-level delegates at the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, to utilize all available knowledge and resources to ensure that people’s health is placed at the very center of the global response to future pandemics and emergencies.
“We, the survivors, have the great responsibility and urgent imperative to implement bold actions” that take stock of the experience of countries in responding to COVID-19, Dr. Barbosa said.
Speaking today at a session on strengthening the global architecture for health emergency preparedness during the World Health Assembly, Dr. Barbosa highlighted that, while preventing a pandemic may be extremely difficult, “we must break the historic pattern of panic and neglect regarding pandemic threats.”
This will require a proper analysis of the COVID-19 pandemic response involving all sectors, the international community, and beneficiaries, to review “the challenges we faced, the failures and the strengths we showed, and identify the actions that we need to implement immediately and in the short- and long term.”
The PAHO Director highlighted that many countries, including those in the Americas, faced challenges in responding to the pandemic, particularly regarding surveillance and access to diagnostics, medicines, vaccines, and qualified health personnel.
It is therefore crucial, Dr. Barbosa said, that PAHO Member States fully engage in the discussions led by the World Health Organization (WHO) for the development of an international instrument to strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response, as well as those regarding the update of the International Health Regulations.
PAHO continues to work with Member States to share information about these negotiation processes and facilitate dialogue to ensure equitable participation of the region, including small island developing states (SIDS).
“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make the global health emergencies preparedness and response fit for purpose, and to strengthen their foundation,” Dr. Barbosa concluded.
During the session, the WHO’s Global Health for Peace Initiative was also presented and will be further discussed. This outlines a plan to better address the drivers of health needs in fragile, conflict-affected and vulnerable settings, and to strengthen the role of WHO and the health sector as contributors to peace outcomes such as social cohesion, dialogue, or resilience to violence.