Washington, D.C., 28 September 2015 (PAHO/WHO) — Pan American cooperation has been critical to major public health achievements in the Americas over the past century, and the past year was no exception, the director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr. Carissa F. Etienne said today in presenting her 2015 annual report to the 54th PAHO Directing Council.
The region's tradition of "leading by example" continued with a number of public health "firsts" between mid-2014 and mid-2015, the period of the report. In the most notable achievement of the period, in April 2015, the Americas became the first World Health Organization (WHO) region to eliminate rubella and congenital rubella syndrome (CRS). In September 2014, Ecuador became the world's second country (after Colombia in 2013) to eliminate onchocerciasis, or river blindness. Also during the period, Nicaragua and Uruguay became the world's first countries to ratify the WHO Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco.
"Our member countries are the main drivers behind our public health progress, but the role of PAHO's Secretariat in providing technical cooperation and coordination has been central to linking the sterling efforts of PAHO's Member States together with those of partners at the local, national, and international levels to achieve milestones that make the Americas a public health leader among WHO regions," Etienne told ministers of health from throughout the Americas attending the five-day Directing Council meeting at PAHO headquarters this week.
In another milestone, in April 2015, Cuba became the first country in the world to be validated as having eliminated mother-to-child transmission of both HIV and syphilis. Since then, six other countries have been reporting data consistent with elimination.
"If we continue to work assiduously along this path, the ambitious goal of an AIDS-free generation in the near future will be well within our grasp," said Etienne.
Among the most important achievements during the period of the annual report, said Etienne, was the adoption by the 2014 Directing Council of a historic regional strategy that endorses the goals of universal access to health and universal health coverage. The strategy is the first of its kind among WHO regions and was developed through a broad consultative process in which more than 1,200 health officials and other PAHO stakeholders from 31 countries and territories participated. Etienne said this process and the resulting strategy were "an exceptional example of Pan American cooperation."
The annual report also highlights a number of challenges faced by PAHO's Member States during the 12 months ending in July 2015. These included the spread of chikungunya, a mosquito-borne viral disease, to some 1.5 million people in 40 countries and territories of the Americas, and the threat of a possible importation of Ebola, following its rapid spread in West Africa during the second half of 2014. In response to the Ebola threat, PAHO's Secretariat mobilized expert missions to 25 member countries to identify gaps in preparedness and priority areas for action to improve countries' capacities to detect, contain and respond to infectious disease outbreaks.
In her visits to PAHO member countries over the past year, Etienne said she had been impressed with countries' technical expertise and innovations in public health, as well as with their willingness to share experiences to help other countries strengthen their own public health capacity. PAHO's Secretariat is eager to facilitate country-to-country ("horizontal") cooperation initiatives that take advantage of this continuing spirit of Pan Americanism, Etienne said.
"Our new framework on Cooperation among Countries for Health Development seeks to revitalize the Bureau's longstanding role as a facilitator of horizontal cooperation and to create new mechanisms and processes to help countries share their growing technical and programmatic capacities with each other. In this way, we can find ever more ways of leading by example."