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Ministers and high-level health authorities of the Americas discuss future pandemic response

Ministers and high-level health authorities of the Americas discuss future pandemic response

Geneva, May 28, 2024 (PAHO/WHO) – Ministers of health and high-level health authorities from the Americas have come together this week for the 77th World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss pressing health issues, including amendments to the International Health Regulations (IHR) and the creation of a global instrument on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.

Here are some highlights of their interventions:

Chile: Responding to new challenges facing global health

While Chile has managed to rebuild the capacity of its public health system following the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as emergencies such as forest fires and floods, the country continues to experience a backlog in health care services, the Minister of Health of Chile, Ximena Aguilera, said.

“We have improved access to mental health care, including for health care workers,” and “reduced out of pocket spending with our zero co-pay strategy,” she added.

Minister of Health of Chile, Ximena Aguilera

Photo credit: PAHO/WHO/Ary Silva

At the global level, Minister Aguilera welcomed “a consensus-based instrument for pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, based on the principles of equity, solidarity, sovereignty and respect for human rights.”

Chile also looked forward to reaching consensus with the amendments of the International Health Regulations (IHR). “Collaboration in finding effective solutions will be vital to respond to the new challenges facing global health.”

Argentina: Strengthening international capacities for pandemic response

Regarding the negotiations that will take place during the 77th World Health Assembly, the pandemic agreement, and the amendments to the IHR, Silvia Prieri, Chief of Staff of the Ministry of Health of Argentina, underscored that “Argentina’s priorities have always been to achieve an international agreement” and to “strengthen international capacities for pandemic response, promoting technological development and scientific collaboration.”

Prieri highlighted Argentina’s ongoing work on a variety of strategic issues, including “digitalizing health systems, strengthening supply chains, combatting antimicrobial resistance, and promoting health research and development.”

The Chief of Staff also underscored that while Argentina “supports the WHO’s mission as the directing and coordinating body on health,” it has concerns regarding the process of amending the IHR 2005.

“It is important to move forward with sustainable commitments for developing countries in particular.”

Canada: Closing health equity gap

“A meaningful pandemic agreement is consensus based and one all member states can agree on,” Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, Theresa Tam, said.

Canada remains committed to working together to prevent and minimize the consequences of health emergencies and pandemics, and “urges all member states to support WHO’s emergencies work.”

“Everyone everywhere should have the best level of care possible to promote wellbeing and prosperity,” she said.

Tam underscored Canada’s commitment to addressing health equity globally and addressing the root causes of ill health. “Together, we must improve health promotion efforts to reduce disease burden and foster mental and physical health and wellbeing.”

For Canada, an integrated approach to health service delivery requires inclusion of nutrition, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and routine vaccination.

“Gender equality is foundational to a peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable future for all. Let us continue to fight racism, sexual and gender-based violence, and discrimination against marginalized groups including LGBTQI+ people, women and girls,” she said.

Uruguay: A historic opportunity

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, the Minister of Public Health of Uruguay, Karina Rando, highlighted the need for countries to work together to strengthen the global health architecture.

“For Uruguay, the negotiations taking place to amend the IHR and the negotiations for a new pandemic agreement are a historic opportunity for the international community, defining a legal framework to enable us to work together to prevent a future pandemic,” and “guarantee access to affordable medications, information and technology to enable us to respond better to such pandemics,” she said.

“We must continue to strengthen dialogue, exchange, search for peace and ensuring the right to health for all.”

Minister of Public Health of Uruguay, Karina Rando

Photo credit: PAHO/WHO/Ary Silva

Primary health care is also an important issue for Uruguay, as is intelligent health spending, with a focus on access to medicines and new technologies.

Rando also underscored mental health as another important issue that has worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic. “Uruguay is investing strongly in an integral plan for the prevention and treatment of mental health problems and addictions.”

Mexico: We cannot forget the lessons of the pandemic

“We cannot expect a better future unless we deal with the deep underlying inequalities that divide us. Inequity undermines health and, in particular, timely affordable access to medicines and health products,” Francisca Elizabeth Mendez Escobar, Permanent Representative of Mexico to the United Nations in Geneva, said.

Highlighting Mexico’s active participation in the negotiation process for the pandemic instrument, Mendez Escobar underscored that “international cooperation is vital to be better prepared for future emergencies, without leaving the most vulnerable behind”.

Francisca Elizabeth Mendez Escobar, Permanent Representative of Mexico to the United Nations in Geneva

Photo credit: PAHO/WHO/Ary Silva

“Our position on the amendments to the IHR and the new legal instrument on pandemics is based on principles of solidarity and equity, identifying specific opportunities to improve global preparedness, such as strengthening regional and local production capacities, addressing patents in emergency situations and the effective use of technical cooperation for better impact.”

Mendez Escobar welcomed the WHO’s recognition that it must transform in order to respond to a world in constant change and called for a renewed commitment to strengthening health systems and achieving the 2030 agenda.

“Peoples’ health has been effected by policies that put economic interest ahead of health.”

Peru: Timely and equitable access to health tools

Ana Cecilia Gervasi, Permanent Representative of Peru to the United Nations in Geneva highlighted the devastating consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, which revealed underlying inequities in health.

“Peru therefore engaged constructively in the process to create better pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, according to the principles of solidarity and equity,” she said.

However, for Peru, the text drafted so far lacks ambition. “We must continue to work together to consolidate our national capacities and strengthen international collaboration for a mechanism for more timely and equitable access to health tools, the implementation of a One Health approach, technology transfer, and the exchange of pathogens.”

Welcoming progress in the negotiation of amendments to the IHR, Gervasi believes this will improve national processes and capacities to prevent and respond to public health emergencies.

“We in Peru cannot forget the devastating consequences and loss of life generated by the pandemic because of inequitable access to health tools.”

She highlighted that the country, and the world, continues to face global challenges including emerging health threats and climate change. Peru has also faced dengue outbreaks, the impact of which has worsened due to increasing temperatures and rainfall due to climate change.

Peru, along with the Netherlands, has therefore submitted a resolution on climate change and health that is “designed to strengthen national health systems to make them more resilient to climate change and ensure that health systems are increasingly more sustainable.”

Colombia: Strengthening primary health care

The Vice Minister of Health of Colombia, Jaime Urrego, underscored the importance of “life before everything” and outlined the country’s efforts to carry out significant health care reforms to achieve universal health based on primary health care, preventative approaches and intercultural work.

He thanked the WHO Director-General for sending a support mission for primary health care as a key component for the country’s health system reform. He stated that Colombia is “moving forward with immediate and executive measures to ensure greater equality, and to have a better impact on social determinants of health.”

Vice Minister of Health of Colombia, Jaime Urrego

Photo credit: PAHO/WHO/Ary Silva

Vice Minister Urrego also said that it is crucial the country’s national health insurance benefits everyone, including Indigenous persons, persons of African descent, and remote populations.

Guatemala: Working together to strengthen pandemic preparedness and response

Guatemala’s Minister of Health, Óscar Cordón, invited delegates from WHO member countries “to work together to increase our global pandemic preparedness and response capacities.”

With 17 million inhabitants and a GDP of 77 billion dollars, he said, Guatemala is the largest economy in Central America. However, he added, “we are the country in the region with the highest proportion of children living in multidimensional poverty and the highest rate of stunting in childhood.”

Cordón recognized the need to build a health response framework aimed at halting and reversing the growth of chronic conditions and infectious diseases in a health partnership involving municipalities and other state ministries.

In reference to chronic non-communicable diseases, he pointed out that their prevention and control should be priority objectives. “In the last 10 years, chronic kidney disease has increased in the country and has caused it to be one of the main causes of mortality in the region,” he said.

He also highlighted the country’s vulnerability to climate change, noting that tropical storms have affected the health of the population.

Despite these challenges, Cordón welcomed the efforts Guatemala is making to improve the health of the population and expand health coverage.

Cuba: Call for cooperation and investment in public health

The Minister of Public Health of Cuba, José Ángel Portal Miranda, stressed the urgency of genuine collaboration and investment in public health at the global level during his speech at the World Health Assembly.

In an increasingly interconnected world, the minister stressed the importance of recognizing that global health issues transcend the realm of health, influencing all sectors. “Working on a global scale is inevitable if we are to achieve a true collaborative framework between international organizations and governments,” he stated, emphasizing the need for sustainable solutions and adequate financial mechanisms.

Minister of Public Health of Cuba, José Ángel Portal Miranda

Photo credit: PAHO/WHO/Ary Silva

In this regard, Portal Miranda highlighted Cuba’s commitment in the negotiations associated with the legal instrument promoted by WHO to support pandemic preparedness, prevention and response. “Given the need to carry out actions that not only avoid the repetition of crises, but also put our countries in a better position to face them, Cuba has actively participated in these negotiations,” he said.

The minister concluded his speech by saying that “the world needs true cooperation and investment in public health; more than words, we need concrete actions. Only by working together, he added, will we be able to forge a future in which health is a right accessible to all.

United States: Investing in global Health security is essential for global stability

Xavier Becerra, US Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, urged global collaboration to address ongoing health threats.

Secretary Becerra acknowledged the success of international cooperation in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. However, he highlighted the need to sustain this momentum to address future challenges.

Xavier Becerra, US Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services

Photo credit: PAHO/WHO/Ary Silva

“The world emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to unprecedented collaboration,” Secretary Becerra said. “But as urgency fades, unprecedented collaboration will be needed again if we are to prevent, detect, contain and respond quickly to the many common threats we face.”

He emphasized the importance of seizing the current opportunity and finalizing the proposed amendments to the International Health Regulations (IHR). “Those amendments, especially the tiered alert system, will immediately make a difference in improving global preparedness,” he stated.

Secretary Becerra further underscored the interconnectedness of health security and global stability. “There is no stability without health, there is no security without health,” he declared. “Healthy nations are strong nations.” The US Secretary concluded his address by calling for a continued commitment to global health. “There is never a wrong moment to strike a good deal for humanity and health,” he asserted.

Bolivia: Achieving equity to better respond to emergencies

Dr. Maya Espinoza, head of the Bolivian delegation to the 77th World Health Assembly, reaffirmed the country’s commitment to work for universal health and the well-being of humanity, emphasizing the importance of equity as a fundamental element to better respond to health emergencies.

“The decisions we make in this assembly must be guided by a commitment to health and life, and against inequities in terms of access to universal health, vaccines and medicines, which must be considered as a right in favor of life,” she stated.

In her speech, she highlighted the progress made in the work of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB) on the pandemic agreement and emphasized the importance of building on what has been achieved so far. “We must establish clear timelines and clear modalities based on transparency and inclusiveness,” she added.

Emphasizing the relevance of the One Health approach, Espinoza asked not to forget that the main objective of both the INB and the IHR amendments is “to achieve equity under principles of solidarity and respect for rights, which will enable us to respond more effectively to future health emergencies.”

Further updates to come.

Por: Cristina Mitchell