Assistant Secretary General Speech


June 9, 2023 - Washington, DC

Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, PAHO Director.
Dr. Epsy Campbell Barr, Chair of PAHO High-Level Commission on Mental Health and COVID-19.
Ministers and Health Authorities,
Special guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning!

I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to our PAHO Director, Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, for his relentless dedication and commitment, the Chair of the Commission, Epsy Campbell Barr, for her exemplary leadership, our esteemed Commissioners for their invaluable contributions, and all high-level participants, special guests, and the public. Your presence today affirms our collective commitment to addressing the pressing mental health crisis.

Before proceeding, let me mention that Vice President Campbell, whose leadership and wisdom have been instrumental to the Commission's work, will soon take the stage to explain the report's details. Her insights will provide a comprehensive understanding of the depth and breadth of our findings and illuminate the path toward implementing the recommendations.

Establishing this Commission was not a matter of choice but a necessity. As we all know, our region has been struggling with gaps in mental health even before COVID-19. The pandemic has only exacerbated these gaps, thrusting mental health into a more significant crisis mode. We have all witnessed how COVID-19 has magnified social, economic, and health inequalities and disproportionately impacted millions of people's mental health in the Americas.

Serving as Co-Chair of this Commission, I have come to recognize the enormity of the problem. I have been privy to stories of despair, anxiety, and grief but also resilience and hope. I have learned that if we fail to act on mental health, we stand to lose the gains in other health and social development aspects. This Commission has thus been a beacon of hope, a promise of action, and a testament to our unwavering commitment.

The report we launched today is no ordinary document. It is innovative because it synthesizes and amplifies the lived experiences of people and presents practical and implementable solutions. The recommendations therein are based on equity, justice, and solidarity principles. It focuses on integrated, community-based mental health services and underscores the importance of addressing social determinants of mental health. We have strived to bring the voices of the unheard and marginalized to the forefront and turn mental health from a silent crisis into a public priority.

My vision for this report is ambitious but achievable. I foresee this report as a catalyst for a significant shift in how we view and address mental health. It has the potential to bridge the gaps and build resilient health systems that can effectively respond not only to the COVID-19 pandemic but to future health crises. Our work as a Commission has paved the way, but it is up to all of us to ensure that the report's recommendations translate into tangible actions that positively impact the lives of our people.

Moreover, this Commission can serve as a model, demonstrating how collaboration, commitment, and shared vision can lead to transformative actions. We have been guided by the principle that health, and in particular mental health, is a universal right that should be accessible to all, regardless of their socio-economic status. We must carry this principle forward in all our efforts and ensure no one is left behind.

As the Co-Chair and on behalf of the Organization of American States, I reiterate our unwavering commitment to supporting the dissemination and implementation of the report’s recommendations. We will work closely with PAHO, our member states, and partners in civil society to ensure that the recommendations made in this report are incorporated into national mental health plans, policies, and legislation. We will foster dialogue, promote collaboration, and find the necessary resources to ensure mental health receives the attention it deserves.

Let me finish by expressing my deepest gratitude to everyone involved in preparing this report. This has been a journey of solidarity, resilience, and hope. Let us remember that while the challenges we face are enormous, our collective strength and determination are even greater. The launch of this report is not the end but the beginning of our collective commitment to improving mental health in our region. Together, we can and will make a difference.
Thank you very much!