Building resilient health systems key, says PAHO director

Washington – The director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) Dr Carissa F. Etienne says that coordinated action across the Americas, including the Caribbean, to increase health surveillance, surge capacity and the availability of essential medicines will be key to building resilient health systems that can better cope with future challenges, such as climate change.

Addressing a high-level event at the Atlantic Council on the topic, “Responding to the Next Disaster: Building Health and Climate Resilience in the Americas”, the PAHO director said that “our health and wellbeing are inherently interdependent on our actions on the environment, the social determinants of health – including health systems – and the economy”.

She added that the pandemic “has distracted the region and the world in general from addressing profound structural issues that impact our very future, including the current climate crisis”.

As countries in the Americas last week reported the highest number of weekly cases since the pandemic began – more than eight million – and many continue to struggle with the long-term impacts of COVID-19, Etienne said that resilient health structures should be “built in non-pandemic times, with political commitment and the necessary financing to transform health systems for the achievement of Universal Access to Health and Universal Health Coverage”.

She said that while COVID-19 provided valuable lessons, “regional solidarity and concerted action are”, however, “critical for response and recuperation, particularly in disease surveillance and to increase the availability of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies, including vaccines”.

Calling for urgent action across all sectors, the PAHO director invited “heads of state, ministers of health, the environment, labour and the economy to move quickly, and to act jointly, as one region, with the private sector, academia and civil society” towards this end.

Etienne recalled that PAHO adopted regional frameworks on One Health, Universal Health and Resilient Health Systems at its 2021 Governing Bodies meeting to support pandemic response, recuperation and recovery.

“The swift implementation of these frameworks in the Americas is imperative in the face of future public emergencies,” she said. “Our vision must be translated into political action, with the firm commitment of countries acting in solidarity.”

PAHO said “Responding to the Next Disaster: Building Health and Climate Resilience in the Americas” is an initiative of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Centre (AALAC) in partnership with the United States Department of State.

The event brought together regional organisations to advance an inclusive conversation on health and natural disasters ahead of the ninth Summit of the Americas, which will focus on “Building a Sustainable, Resilient and Equitable Future” for the hemisphere, PAHO said. (CMC)

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