Primary Health Care was emphasized as the guiding strategy to ensure universal access and coverage throughout the Americas. Priorities include health financing, NCDs and health emergencies.

Washington, D.C., 18 June 2019 (PAHO/WHO) – Primary Health Care continues to be a guiding focus of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), not just in terms of universal coverage but also for universal access to health and advocating for the absence of geographical, economic, sociocultural, organizational and gender barriers, PAHO Director Carissa F Etienne told ambassadors and staff of the Organization of American States (OAS).

The remarks came during Dr. Etienne’s presentation of the “Annual Report of the Director of the Pan American Sanitary Bureau 2018” on 17 June, which covers PAHO’s technical cooperation with member countries, within the framework of the organization’s 2014-2019 Strategic Plan.

During her presentation, Dr. Etienne highlighted the High-level Commission, which was established in February 2018 under the theme “Universal Health in the 21st Century; Forty years of Alma-Ata”, with the co-presidency of Chile’s former President, Michelle Bachelet, and the Assistant Secretary General of the OAS, Ambassador Nestor Mendez, to examine the future of health systems in the Region. The Commission report, which was launched earlier this year, centered on the transformation of health systems for the realization of a vision of health for all in all places.

Etienne at the Organization of the American States

Along these lines, “PAHO has been supporting Member States in transforming their health systems to be more comprehensive, resilient, equitable and focused on the primary health care approach,” said Dr. Etienne. The PAHO Director highlighted that 22 countries and territories in the Region have established policies and strategies towards universal health coverage and access and of these, 16 have already put the necessary financial frameworks in place.

For this to continue, the PAHO Director emphasized the need to finance universal health, which “requires access to safe, appropriate, affordable and effective medicines and technologies.” PAHO’s Revolving Fund for Vaccines, and PAHO’s Strategic Fund for Medicines and Health Supplies are examples of key financing mechanisms for ensuring that every country and territory in the region has access to quality goods at a fair price.

PAHO also worked with Mercosur to ensure increased access to high-cost medicines, including those for Hepatitis C.

Highlights in the Americas

Important achievements presented by Dr. Etienne include “Zero deaths due to maternal hemorrhage” which harnesses a primary health care approach to address the equity gap in maternal mortality across Latin America and the Caribbean. So far, four of the participating countries (Bolivia, Guatemala, Peru and the Dominican Republic) have reported no maternal deaths due to hemorrhage since the initiative was launched in 2018.

Responding to the needs of particular age groups, PAHO worked with 21 countries and territories in the Americas, including Barbados, Brazil, Guyana, Haiti, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Suriname to update their strategies on adolescent health, including adolescent pregnancy. The organization also provided technical support on the adoption or ratification of the Interamerican Convention on Human Rights Protection for Older Persons.

In the area of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which are the leading causes of death and disability in countries throughout the Region, the PAHO Director highlighted the organization’s work on tobacco control, reducing the consumption of unhealthy food and drink products, and addressing the burden of violence in the Americas.

“Our organization works continuously to reduce the burden of this public health problem in alliance with other organizations and agencies within the Inter-American System,” she said. “We advocate at the highest level of governments to enhance awareness of the severe impact of these diseases and for the implementation of policies and prevention.”

PAHO is also advancing an initiative to eliminate over 30 infectious diseases in the Americas, which primarily affect the most vulnerable. This initiative follows in the footsteps of recent successes including Paraguay’s malaria-free certification in June 2018.

Other PAHO support for member countries included the development of an action plan on health and climate change for the Caribbean, and assistance responding to health emergencies across the Region, such as flooding in Bolivia, chemical contamination in Chile and the Fuego volcano in Guatemala.

The organization also provides continued technical cooperation in Venezuela, including in the development of a rapid response plan for measles, diphtheria and malaria, as well as in the strengthening of health care delivery.

Moving forward, Dr. Etienne emphasized the need to address ongoing health challenges in the Region, including the migrant situation and “persisting inequity, impacting access of the poor, indigenous, afro descendants and Roma populations and persons living in conditions of vulnerability to health services and the social determinants of health.”

The PAHO Director reaffirmed her commitment to cooperation for health in the Americas and assured the OAS that “the PAHO Secretariat will continue our hard work until the goals we have set together with our Member States are reached.”

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— Annual Report of the Director 2018