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Published in: 12/15/2022

Universal Health Day – Recovering lost public health gains in a post-pandemic Americas

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The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director, Dr Carissa F. Etienne, has called on countries to redouble efforts towards achieving universal health as they begin to rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This region urgently needs to act to reverse the socioeconomic and health losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, address the growing burden of foregone care and recover lost public health gains,” the Director said at an event to mark Universal Health Day.

The event, “Build the world we want: A health future for all,” brought together experts from PAHO and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and Ministers and health leaders from the Region to discuss the steps that countries must take towards universal health access and better prepare for the next health emergency.

Prior to the pandemic, while progress was being made, around a third of people continued to miss out on access to health services, particularly among the most vulnerable populations. This was compounded by insufficient public spending in health and a lack of investment in primary health care.

During the event, Dr. Etienne highlighted four priority areas for action: transforming health systems based on primary health care; strengthening leadership and governance; improving health service delivery networks; and increasing and sustaining public financing in health.

“After almost three years of pandemic, the region is facing several crises, including an ongoing social crisis,” Alberto Arenas, Director of Social Development at Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean said.

“It is therefore crucial that we advance towards universal systems of social protection that are sustainable, resilient and that address the social determinants of health.”

The PAHO Director also warned that the “window of opportunity for action is small” so countries must take steps now towards building health systems that meet the needs of the population, leaving no one behind. This is particularly important given the many other crises facing the region, including natural disasters, political unrest and a wave of unmet health needs generated by the disruption in essential services over the past three years.

“We do not know when and where the next international public health emergency will hit. But we do know that we have an obligation to act now, to strengthen preparedness and response capacity, and to expand universal access and coverage for all,” she said.

PAHO continues to support Member States throughout the region in developing long-term strategies for health system transformation post-COVID-19, with a focus on resilience, inclusion and equity.

This includes the development of a Regional Platform for the Production of Medicines and Vaccines, launched last year to promote local production and reduce regional dependency on imports.

“We are already envisioning a post-COVID-19 era where health systems and societies are more inclusive, equitable and resilient,” Dr. Etienne said. But this must be translated into “coherent policy reform and action at the country level.”

“I know that we can act collectively, in the interest of all peoples in the Americas, to build a better world for all, one that is healthy, and one where the right to health truly becomes a reality.”

Universal Health Day

Universal Health Day is celebrated each year on 12 December to raise awareness about individuals and communities that still lack access to essential, comprehensive and quality health services based on primary health care.

The theme this year is “Build the world we want: a healthy future for all” – a call to resume the path towards universal health in the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic to build resilient health systems, able to face future public health emergencies.

Ministers Quotes:

Carla Vizzoti – Minister of Health of Argentina

“The challenge of building the world we want and a health future for all is immense, and requires political commitment that goes beyond health authorities. It requires the commitment not only of presidents but of all national cabinets. And, of course, it also requires international cooperation, solidarity and strategic planning.” 

Frank Anthony – Minster of Health, Guyana

“Guyana’s constitution enshrines the right to health as a fundamental human right. And many countries globally, particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean, similarly recognize health as a human right. Currently, millions are without health care access and many more cannot afford care. These disparities are further compounded by COVID-19, which has disrupted many traditional public health programs such as childhood immunization, HIV, TB and others."

Jaime Urrego – Vice Minister of Public Health and Health Services Delivery, Colombia

“Coverage is not the same as access, but both are absolutely necessary to guarantee the fundamental right to health for all of citizens of the Americas.”

Magaly Gutierrez - Minister of Health of Venezuela

“A healthier world goes beyond things like a healthy diet, a functioning hospital, and even a structurally optimal health system. A healthy world requires the creation of social equity that enables the fair distribution of food, medicines, access to education, access to production, the timely access to health care centers and institutions, and access to life-saving technology.”