(CMC) — The Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr Carissa Etienne, has called on Caribbean and other countries to urgently invest in health systems that are “inclusive, comprehensive and responsive” to mitigate the impact of pandemics and other health emergencies.
The PAHO chief issued the call during the Health, Recovery and Resilience: Summit of the Americas 2022 virtual special session on the margins of PAHO’s 16th Session of the Subcommittee on Program, Budget, and Administration (SPBA16).
Led by PAHO and Kevin Michael O’Reilly, Summit of the Americas National Coordinator at the US Department of State, PAHO said that the event Thursday provided PAHO member-states and Missions of the Organization of American States (OAS) with an overview on how the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified existing barriers to universal health, particularly among vulnerable communities.
The event also “emphasised the resilient health systems as a key commitment of the 2022 Summit agenda,” PAHO said.
The Ninth Summit of the Americas will be hosted by the United States from June 6-10. It will bring together leaders from the countries in the region to address shared challenges and opportunities under the theme “Building a Sustainable, Resilient, and Equitable Future,” for the hemisphere.
Dr Etienne underscored that the theme of this year’s summit reflects an “unprecedented urgency for us to address long-standing inequities in the region through sustained action to build resilient health systems and societies”.
According to the United Nations’ Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the lives, health and wellbeing of people throughout the Americas, reducing the gross domestic product (GDP) in the region by 6.8 per cent, and pushing 209 million people into poverty and 78 million into extreme poverty in 2020.
PAHO said the pandemic has also had a significant negative impact on the delivery of health services, with 93 per cent of countries in the region continuing to report disruptions to essential health services.
“Without the capacity to detect, respond and mitigate the impact of pandemics and other public health emergencies, sustainable development cannot be achieved,” Dr Etienne said.
O’Reilly highlighted the commitment of the United States in addressing the most pressing needs that the planet faces — the climate crisis, the lack of equitable access to economic, social and political opportunities.
“That’s where the burden falls most heavily on the most vulnerable and the most underrepresented among us in our societies,” he said, adding “we want a summit that responds to the needs and priorities of the people of the Americas”.
PAHO also proposed that the summit’s Political Commitment and Plan of Action on Health and Resilience be built on the vision of achieving universal health in the Americas, including strengthening emergency preparedness and response capacities in all countries of the region.
The Plan of Action will propose policies and regulatory frameworks for the region’s health systems; ways to increase the health workforce; models for health financing; calls for the expansion of medical supply production capacities; and the application of digital tools, according to PAHO.
“As we begin to emerge from a pandemic that has impacted the lives and livelihoods of millions in the Americas, the Political Commitment and Plan of Action on Health and Resilience is a central pillar of this year’s summit, and the path to a better future for the region,” Dr Etienne said.
The Dominican born Etienne said PAHO stands ready to support the development of the Plan of Action as a crucial component to “accelerate our recovery in health and beyond, and the achievement of a sustainable, resilient and equitable future”.