Championing health equity for sustainable development

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WASHINGTON, USA, (PAHO/WHO) – Ensuring that equity in health remains at the forefront of efforts to meet the targets of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals is the focus of the Quinquennial Report of the Director 2018-2022. The report was presented today by Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa F. Etienne to ministers of health and other health leaders at the 30th Pan American Sanitary Conference.

The report, which is Dr Etienne’s final of her decade-long tenure as PAHO Director, encapsulates the organization’s work across all technical areas, including public health emergencies, communicable diseases, non-communicable diseases and health systems and services, over the past five years.

The quinquennial report highlights the impact that COVID-19 has had on magnifying existing inequities in the Americas, but also emphasizes that the pandemic has presented the region with an opportunity to rebuild societies “that do not trample and discard those in situations of vulnerability, but rather seeks to help them to attain optimal levels of physical, mental, and spiritual health and wellbeing.”

“Though COVID-19 slowed the region’s progress towards its health goals, it did not break us, and it has provided many lessons and experiences that we can use to redouble our efforts and make up for reversals in some areas,” Dr Etienne said.

Beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, responding to health emergencies and disasters, remained front and center of the organization’s work over the past five years. This includes the development of the SMART Hospitals Network, which began in 2015 and has since facilitated the retrofitting of 50 health facilities in the Caribbean to become safe, green and resilient to climate-related disasters.

While Diphtheria-Pertussis-Tetanus (DTP3) coverage fell from 84 in 2019 to 80 percent in 2021 due to lockdowns and a focus on COVID-19 vaccination in the region, routine immunization remains a key focus of PAHO’s cooperation. “Vaccines work so well that many persons are unfamiliar with the diseases that have been prevented, diseases that were a scourge among populations, especially children,” Dr Etienne said. “We do not want to see those tragic outcomes repeated.”

The contribution of the PAHO Revolving Fund for Access to Vaccines is also a key element of the report – both for ensuring access to COVID-19 vaccines for the region, and also for its key role in the rapid expansion of overall vaccine portfolios of participating Member States. In 2021, the value of purchases made by the Revolving Fund on behalf of Member States reached US$1,075.6 million.

The report also reflected PAHO’s ongoing work towards ensuring universal health coverage, including the Regional Compact on Primary Health Care for Universal Health, PHC 30-30-30, which was launched in April 2019, as well as the organization’s continued drive towards the elimination of diseases such as malaria, trachoma, lymphatic filariasis, Chagas and others.

Throughout the past five years, PAHO has also made great strides in the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases, including advocating for policies to increase taxes on unhealthy products such as tobacco, alcohol and sugar-sweetened beverages, and scaling up of interventions aligned with the Framework Convention for Tobacco Control.

Reflecting on PAHO’s 120-year anniversary on 2 December 2022, Dr Etienne emphasized that while many steps have been taken on the journey to equitable health and sustainability, there are many more to go.

And while many see words like ‘equity’, ‘human rights’ and sustainability’ as simply buzzwords, “PAHO Member States and the Pan American Sanitary Bureau take them very seriously indeed,” she said.

“PAHO remains vibrant, innovative, and eager to learn, ready to build on successes and face emerging challenges, with personnel and partners dedicated to the service of the health of the peoples of the Americas,” highlighted Dr Etienne.

“I pass the baton in this marathon relay towards the next 120 years of PAHO’s service,” she said. “And wish the next PAHO director and the PASB team every success in their stewardship of, and contribution to, the health of the peoples of the Americas and the region’s sustainable development.”

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