Intercultural, participatory approach key to ensuring health of Indigenous Peoples in the Americas

9 Aug 2023
Guatemalan elder

Washington D.C. 9 August 2003 (PAHO) – On International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, tackling the social determinants of health and ensuring an intercultural approach are vital to ensure the health of the Region’s Indigenous Populations, urges Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director, Dr. Jarbas Barbosa.

“The Americas is home to more than 70 million Indigenous Peoples, 7% of the Region’s population,” Dr. Barbosa said in a message to commemorate the day. “However, they face huge health inequities.”

These include higher rates of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, and communicable diseases like tuberculosis, malaria and trachoma.

Indigenous populations in the Region are also disproportionately impacted by maternal and infant mortality, the Director highlighted.

In some countries, maternal mortality rate among Indigenous Peoples is up to seven times higher than the general population and infant mortality more than double.

To address this, national and local governments must “intensify efforts to work with Indigenous Peoples to address the social determinants of health and equity,” he said.

Countries must also recognize traditional medicine, incorporate an intercultural approach into health systems, and ensure the generation of disaggregated data on ethnicity to tackle the invisibility of Indigenous populations in health indicators.

PAHO continues to work with Member States to improve the health of the Region’s Indigenous communities, promote the participation of communities in decisions about their own health, and to ensure the implementation of intercultural health services to improve access.

In 2017 PAHO Member States unanimously approved the Policy on Ethnicity and Health and, in 2019, a Strategy and Plan of Action to recognize the need for an intercultural and participatory approach to health.

PAHO is also working with countries in the Region to ensure the implementation of a resolution on the Health of Indigenous Peoples, proposed by Brazil and adopted at the 76th World Health Assembly.

International Day of the World’s Indigenous People is observed on 9 August every year to raise awareness of the urgent need to protect and promote the rights of Indigenous Peoples.