PAHO Director: Strengthening and investing in health promotion is essential to build stronger, healthier and more equitable communities

drawing people in park

PAHO launches the new online course on Health Promotion and the Health Promotion Window of Knowledge, two e-learning tools to advance Health Promotion in the Region of the Americas.

Washington, D.C., October 30, 2023 – The Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, highlighted that “to build stronger, more equitable, and healthier communities, it is essential to strengthen and invest in health promotion”, which involves, he added, “creating healthy environments, promoting community participation and empowerment, strengthening health governance and intersectoral action, and incorporating this approach into healthcare systems.” 

PAHO Director made this statement during his intervention at the launch event of the new online course on Health Promotion and the Health Promotion Window of Knowledge, two new PAHO e-learning tools to advance Health Promotion in the Region of the Americas.

“Our health depends not only on individual factors but also on socially conditioned factors, meaning the social determinants of health”, said. In this context, Dr. Barbosa continued, health promotion “delves into the less visible causes of health and seeks to improve the social, environmental and economic conditions and contexts in which people live so that all people can reach their full potential for health and well-being."

“This requires a comprehensive, participatory and intersectoral approach, especially involving those that have a strong influence on health, such as the economic sectors, education, the environment, urban planning, and social services," PAHO Director assured.

The two new PAHO tools launched today “embody this vision and put it into practice,” Dr. Barbosa emphasized. “They are designed to strengthen and update capacities in our health workforce, to exchange knowledge, and to foster joint learning in the Region in the field of health promotion.”

Dr. Barbosa highlighted that upon his appointment as new PAHO Director this year, he created the new Department of Social and Environmental Determinants of Health Equity to advance on the current mandate of Health Promotion in the Region, specifically the Strategy and Action Plan on Health Promotion in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals 2019-2030, which the countries of the Region approved in during the Directing Council in 2019.

“Social participation improves health”

PAHO Assistant Director, Rhonda Sealey-Thomas, said that “societies in the 21st century face both old and new challenges related to health, well-being, and equity.” In this context, she added, health promotion follows a clear approach: “We have evidence that social participation improves health, and empowers individuals and communities, and helps to direct our actions to real needs, thus promoting health and health equity.”

Sealey-Thomas said that “health promotion recognizes the role that other sectors beyond the health sector play in health and emphasizes the need to work jointly between at all levels of government, strengthening intersectoral action, or as we also call it, health in all policies.”

Gerry Eijkemans, director of the Social and Environmental Determinants for Health Equity (DHE) Department, asked why cure people and then send them back to the conditions that make them sick. “The socioeconomic factors (such as income level, type of employment, level of education) and the physical environment where people live account for 50% of people's health, and this is why the social determinants of health must be addressed,” she said.

“We have learned this lesson from the pandemic and we must apply it in the new post-pandemic situation.” Among the challenges to apply and develop this approach, DHE Director mentioned to reinforce the community engagement, promote the intersectoral action, and overcome the biomedical approach to health, which focuses more on cure than prevention.”

The new PAHO tools

In the launch event there was a panel focused on The importance of Health Promotion for health and well-being, in which participated Joy St John, Executive Director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA); Alejandra Acuña, Executive Secretary of the Council of Ministers of Health of Central America and the Dominican Republic (SE-COMISCA); María del Carmen Calle Dávila, Executive Secretary of the Andean Health Organization-Hipolito Unanue Agreement (ORAS-CONHU); and Orielle Solar, unit chief of the PAHO's Health Promotion and Social Determinants Unit.

Regional Advisor for Health Promotion PAHO, Pilar Campos, presented the new online course and the window of knowledge. The course is entitled A Comprehensive Approach to Health Promotion and Well-being in the 21st Century. It is an online course designed to update and reinforce the key principles that underpin health promotion. The course is organized into four interactive modules, including activities and additional resources, and it will be available on the Virtual Campus of Public Health in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.

The window of knowledge on Health Promotion has been developed in collaborative work with BIREME and the countries of the region. It is a repository of strategic health promotion documents that collect institutional publications related to health promotion from the Americas, all published after 2010. With this tool, PAHO aims to facilitate the exchange of knowledge, experiences, and insights among the countries while highlighting the valuable health promotion experiences in the Americas.