Investing in health should be among our easier choices, PAHO Director tells high level delegates at Summit of the Americas

Vaccination in the field

Los Angeles, 8 June 2022 – At an event bringing together US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Economy and Health from the region, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director, Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, called for greater spending in health in the aftermath of COVID-19.

“Never before has the case for investing in health and the health economy been made so clearly, and the consequences of under-investment been rendered so starkly,” Dr. Etienne said.

She added that health is central to “everything countries of our region covet for their future,” including economic prosperity and “limitless opportunity for all citizens.”  

Organized by the US Department of State, the June 7 event marked the launch of the Economic and Health Dialogue of the Americas  – a government-to-government initiative to coordinate action across the highest of health and finance ministries to address the challenges exposed and exacerbated by the pandemic.

The event was hosted by the US Under Secretary of Growth, Energy and Environment Jose Fernandez, and included the participation of Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the Organization of American States, as well as from Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Health and Finance from Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Panama, among other high-level representatives. 

The PAHO Director reminded dignitaries that the Americas was at the epicenter of the pandemic, with 157 million cases and over 2.7 million lives lost to COVID-19. “No community went untouched,” Dr. Etienne said. “Our health, social and economic systems were stretched to the limit.”

She highlighted that ill-prepared health systems struggled with the constant surge in cases, even after a massive injection of resources. When COVID-19 hit the region, Dr. Etienne said, countries struggled to “overcome long standing systemic deficiencies, the result of ill-conceived health sector reforms, and the lack of political attention to health over decades.”

She welcomed the launch of the Dialogue and thanked the United Sates “for convening this Forum and initiating this important deliberation on a future Americas where we have stronger more resilient health systems.”

Moving forward, the Director said countries will need to sustain investment to ensure health systems are “equipped to respond to this and future new threats when they arise.” To that end, it would be critical to increase spending in health beyond the current levels of 3.7% of GDP, “to achieve the PAHO recommended target of 6% of GDP, and not just in the years when crisis hits.”

In his opening remarks, Secretary Blinken said he was “pleased to see so much solidarity among all of our colleagues and all of our neighbors” in this important initiative.

He said COVID-19 revealed “serious inequities in the way health care is provided, is distributed, is made available to people,” and that “we want to take that lesson to heart.”

A platform to help countries share lessons and come together on key areas to strengthen health systems would “have a dramatic and powerful impact on the lives of all of our citizens,” the US Secretary of State said.