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PAHO Director Calls for Strengthened Regional Health Systems

Other regional health leaders emphasized the need for digitization of public health information, international collaboration, and equity in health for post-pandemic recovery and coping with future pandemics.

Image of Dr. Carissa Etienne
PAN American Health Organization (PAHO) Director, Dr. Carissa Etienne

At the opening of the 59th Directing Council of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Director Carissa F. Etienne asserted that the “tragic march of the COVID-19 pandemic” has exposed the urgent need for investments to strengthen health systems and technology production across the Americas.

The region’s inability to procure key COVID-19 supplies and equipment, including vaccines, “heightened our vulnerabilities and severely compromised our pandemic response,” Dr. Etienne said. “However, this alarming circumstance has galvanized us into recognizing the obligatory need for regional self-sufficiency in health technologies.”

She added that PAHO recently launched a platform to boost regional vaccine production and that the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the World Bank, and other partners have expressed interest in collaboration.

The Directing Council, held virtually from 20-24 September this year, brings together ministers and other health authorities from countries throughout the Americas to discuss and deliberate on important policy recommendations for the region.

During the session, Dr. Etienne’s presented PAHO’s Annual Report, which covers the period between 1 July 2020 and 30 June 2021, and focuses on PAHO’s technical cooperation to assist countries in responding to the pandemic while maintaining and strengthening health gains.

Dr. Etienne also called attention to the “enormity” of the pandemic’s human toll, noting that as of last Friday, there were 87.6 million COVID-19 cases and 2.16 million deaths.

“It is noteworthy that after every disaster, be it a natural disaster, a major disease outbreak like Ebola or a financial crisis, we all reaffirm our commitment to building resilient health systems,” she said. “Sadly, if nothing else, this pandemic has demonstrated that our continuing failure to deliver on this commitment does indeed carry a high price tag in terms of the millions of lives lost and economies that are destroyed.”

“I urge us all, to invest in our health systems and swiftly ensure their transformation so they have the capacity to respond to the needs of all people, every day and to better respond to pandemics and other disasters when they do occur,” Dr. Etienne concluded.

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