Washington, DC, 31 August 2023 (PAHO)- On the International Day for People of African Descent, the Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, called for a greater "response to the health needs of those who are systematically left behind”.
The Americas region is home to approximately 210 million people of African descent, or 20 per cent of the population. People of African descent "continue to experience racism and still have poorer health outcomes," the PAHO Director lamented in a message to mark the day.
A recent PAHO report shows that in 80 per cent of the countries analyzed, Afro-descendants experience increased poverty levels, limited access to health services, and higher rates of infant mortality and maternal mortality. For instance, the maternal mortality gap is between 1.3 and 3 times higher in some countries.
In addition, people of African descent have limited access to adequate housing and basic sanitation— between 2 and 5 times higher in some countries.
To address these inequalities, PAHO Member States approved in 2017 the Policy on Ethnicity and Health, which recognizes the need to reorient health services with an intercultural approach to remove barriers to access services and improve the health of these populations. And accompany the Policy, in 2019 Member States approved a strategy and plan of action to measure the progress of States in improving the health situation of the different peoples of the region.
The Organization also supported young leaders to develop a health plan for Afro-descendant youth in Latin America and the Caribbean and carries out actions in the framework of the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024).
However, "much more needs to be done," Dr Barbosa said, adding that "PAHO is committed to promote social participation, eliminate racism in health services, and guarantee equitable access to health for people of African descent.”
The International Day for People of African Descent is observed every 31 August to recognize the contributions of the African diaspora worldwide, eliminate all forms of discrimination against people of African descent, and protect their human rights, including the right to health.