Washington, D.C. 1 de October 2015 (OPS/OMS) — Health leaders from countries of the Americas pledged today to take collective action to tackle four serious health challenges: violence against women, dementia, work-related illness and injuries, and antimicrobial resistance. Delegates to the 54th Directing Council of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) approved strategies and plans to guide public health action in these areas on the fourth day of their week-long meeting.
Addressing the epidemic of violence against women
Noting that national health systems have a central role to play in preventing and responding to violence against women, delegates adopted a plan that seeks to improve the ability of health systems to identify women exposed to violence, provide them with immediate care, and mitigate harm through support and referrals to other sectors including legal and social services.
The new strategy and plan of action draw on decades of research into the roots of violence against women by PAHO/WHO, other agencies of the United Nations system and academic and research organizations. It proposes to improve the availability of such evidence to better inform public health policies and programs, and to strengthen the political and financial commitments to addressing violence against women within health systems.
The plan also identifies promising prevention strategies, including challenging norms that perpetuate gender inequality and condone such violence, investing in women's political and economic empowerment, preventing child abuse against both boys and girls and reducing the harmful use of alcohol.
Violence against women has significant health, social and economic impacts on women as well as children, families, communities and national economies. Its forms range from rape, physical assault and murder to sexual harassment in schools and the workplace, and verbal and emotional abuse. In addition to physical injuries and death, violence against women can lead to suicide, the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS, unwanted pregnancies, post traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety, amongst other consequences.
Health leaders pledged to take new action to mitigate the impact of a dramatic increase over the next 20 years in dementias in older people in the region.
Currently, some 6.5% to 8.5% of adults over 60 in the Americas have dementias of one kind or another, and if the trends continue the number of people with these conditions is expected to nearly double in the region over the next 20 years, from 7.8 million in 2010 to 14.8 million in 2030.
Most people with dementias in the Americas are cared for at home, leading to higher death rates among not just the older persons but also their overstrained caregivers. Many countries in the region do not have adequate long-term care facilities for the elderly, nor the resources to build more.
The new strategy and plan for tackling dementias calls for greater investments in long-term care, more research on the needs of people suffering from dementias, and new evidence-based models for improving treatment and care.
Battling the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance
Bolstering 20 years of public health efforts to fight the growth of drug-resistant bacteria, the health officials agreed on new steps to address the ongoing threat and ensure that drugs to fight infectious diseases remain effective.
The new plan aims to increase awareness and understanding of antimicrobial resistance, reduce the misuse of antimicrobial drugs, expand surveillance of drug resistance, improve infection prevention, and increase investment in new antibiotic drugs and diagnostics.
Despite the efforts of public health authorities, antimicrobials in many countries in the Americas are dispensed without a doctor's prescription. Worldwide, more than 50% of such drugs are prescribed or sold inappropriately.
Strict controls imposed in the region on the use of tuberculosis drugs have slowed the spread of drug-resistant forms of the disease. But among HIV-infected patients, 7% are infected with a drug-resistant virus when they start antiretroviral therapies. The growth of drug resistant strains of malaria threaten the remarkable 67% overall malaria case reduction reported in the Region between 2000 and 2014.
Safeguarding workers' lives and improving their health and well-being
Health leaders agreed to take a series of measures over the next 10 years aimed at safeguarding the lives of workers and improving their health and well-being, with special attention to workers in inequitable conditions of employment and those exposed to hazardous working conditions.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are nearly 140 million new cases of occupational diseases per year worldwide, although many are not identified as such. They include both communicable and noncommunicable work-related diseases. Occupational risks contribute an estimated 15% to the total disease burden.
Occupational deaths and accidents also constitute a major public health problem. In 2007, for example, there were an estimated 7.6 million occupational injuries in the Americas, according to the PAHO publication Health in the Americas. Occupational hazards are costly for countries.
The new plan commits countries to take actions—with PAHO support—that include drafting legislation and technical regulations on workers' health; identifying, evaluating, and inspecting hazardous workplace exposures and conditions; and strengthening diagnostic capabilities, information systems, epidemiological surveillance, and research on work-related diseases, accidents, and deaths.
Countries will also work to improve workers' access to health care and health coverage and to promote multisectoral activities to advance health, well-being, and healthy practices in the workplace.
Earlier this week, the 54th PAHO Directing Council adopted plans and strategies aimed at expanding the benefits of immunization, reducing deaths and illness from viral hepatitis, accelerating the fight against tuberculosis, and strengthening health-related laws.