Washington, D.C. 30 September 2015 (PAHO/WHO) — Health leaders attending the 54th Directing Council of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) today adopted plans and strategies to boost immunization rates, reduce deaths and illness from hepatitis, accelerate the fight against tuberculosis and reform public health laws in the Americas.
Extending the benefits of vaccines
Building on decades of increases in vaccination rates and recent advances in introducing new vaccines, the health officials pledged to extend the full benefits of immunization to all people in the Americas by 2020.
The strategy adopted by the health ministers aims to protect the historic achievements of eliminating smallpox, polio and rubella in the region by strengthening immunization programs. And it addresses a recent rise in vaccine coverage gaps among some of the region's most marginalized peoples while tackling new immunization goals. Towards that end, the ministers agreed to identify and quantify factors that contribute to low vaccination coverage and to supply continuous training and support to the region's thousands of public health workers, who have been on the front lines of the region's hard-won immunization gains.
At today's meeting, ministers from countries including Mexico, Brazil, Paraguay, Cuba and the Bahamas praised PAHO's Revolving Fund for Vaccine Procurement—designed to ensure uninterrupted access to quality vaccines and supplies at affordable prices—as a key factor in combating communicable diseases in the region. The ministers called for strengthening the fund going forward.
To provide further backing to immunization efforts, the plan calls for the creation of legislative frameworks, the establishment of technical advisory committees, the implementation of action plans and the continued annual celebration of Vaccination Week in the Americas.
Reducing the burden of hepatitis in the Americas
The ministers of health agreed on a series of actions to prevent and control viral hepatitis infection, with emphasis on hepatitis B and C, which affect an estimated 20 million people in the Americas.
Hepatitis B and C together cause some 80% of all liver cancer deaths globally, equivalent to nearly 1.4 million lives lost each year. Without treatment, many of the 20 million people in the Americas who have hepatitis B and C will go on to develop long-term problems including cirrhosis and liver cancer.
The new regional plan lays out lines of action to reduce illness, disabilities and deaths from hepatitis and paves the way for eliminating hepatitis B and C as public health problems in the Americas by 2030. Among other steps, it calls for bringing vaccination to all children and to high-risk and vulnerable population groups, including health-care workers, men who have sex with men, sex workers and drug users. It proposes that countries ramp up information campaigns about preventing the disease, strengthen monitoring of hepatitis cases and maintain high safety standards for diagnostic techniques and blood supplies.
New strategy to accelerate fight against tuberculosis
Health ministers pledged to reduce the rate of deaths from tuberculosis by at least 24% by 2019, as part of a commitment to ramp up patient-centered care, advance research on TB prevention and control, mobilize new funding for anti-TB efforts and ensure engagement in these efforts at the community level and across different sectors.
The minister's actions respond to evidence that despite real advances in reducing the burden of TB over the past two decades, the disease continues to be one of the region's leading infectious causes of death, along with HIV/AIDS. Rapid urbanization has created new pockets of poverty that foster the disease, and meantime both multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) and co-infections of TB and HIV are on the rise.
Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection most commonly found in the lungs that can spread through the lymph nodes and bloodstream to any organ in the body. Transmitted from person to person through the air, usually through coughs or sneezes, it is both curable and preventable.
Since 2000 more than 37 million lives around the world have been saved through effective diagnosis and treatment. In the Americas, TB incidence dropped by 48.2% and deaths declined 68% between 1990 and 2013, thanks largely to the implementation by member countries of public health measures promoted by PAHO/WHO.
Expanding public health laws and regulations
Reflecting growing appreciation that bolstering laws and regulations strengthens public health initiatives, the authorities called on PAHO/WHO for support in establishing legal structures to promote healthy lives for all.
The new strategy calls on PAHO to provide technical advice to countries that request help in using their legislative and regulatory powers effectively and to bring their health-related laws and regulations into line with the highest international standards.
Currently, the right to health is enshrined in 20 of 35 constitutions of PAHO Member States. Building on this principle, some countries have introduced legal reforms to promote specific health-related human rights such as access to health services, health insurance, and medical goods and benefits such as vaccines and essential medicines, as well as the right to health and other related human rights in the context of cultural, racial and ethnic diversity, traditional medicine, potable water, sanitation and nutrition.
The new strategy will, among other things, facilitate exchange among PAHO member states of best practices and judicial decisions related to public health, promote the formulation of new health-related laws and strengthen the ability of health ministries to review legal gaps and conflicts.
Discussions continue on other priority health issues
The health ministers will consider other key health issues this week, including growing antimicrobial resistance, rising rates of dementia among the elderly, and reducing violence against women.