Assistant Secretary General Speech


September 27, 2022 - Washington, DC

Dr. Tedros Adhanom, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO);
H.E. Epsy Campbell, Former Vice president of Costa Rica;
Dr. Carissa Etienne, Director of PAHO,
Honourable Ministers and Secretaries of Health, Distinguished Delegates, Colleagues, and esteemed guests:

• It is my honour to close this session and to thank you for your participation in this side event: Leveraging Lessons Learned from the COVID-19 Pandemic to Address the Region’s Mental Health Challenges for the Future.

• I would like to extend a special thank you to our distinguished speakers and panellists, who have all shared outstanding insights and best practice and lessons learned from the pandemic as we strive to recover from this difficult period and build back better mental health.

• The COVID-19 pandemic continues to test us as a Region, with its catastrophic impacts on the health of populations as well as on the social and economic wellbeing of our countries. The collective experience of the pandemic, its impact, and the trauma it left has exacerbated ongoing mental health challenges faced by our Region, characterized by a chronic mental health treatment gap, where only a small fraction of those requiring care, actually receive it.

• While we long for a return to normalcy coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must not accept a “business as usual” approach about mental health. A dismissive attitude will fail to guarantee each individual his or her fundamental right to mental health and deprive them of the opportunity to achieve their full potential. Furthermore, our communities will be left vulnerable to ongoing threats to our mental health, such as future pandemics, socio-economic upheaval and most notably climate change.

• It must therefore be our collective priority to ensure a future with optimal mental health in our Region. This will require:

1. Expanding access to mental health for all as an integral part of Universal Access and Universal Health Coverage,
2. Eliminating inequities in mental health so that no one is left behind,
3. Ending stigma and discrimination associated with mental health conditions which prevents so many from seeking and receiving support.

• These goals will require significant political will as well as commitment from all sectors of government and all partners in society including the private sector; scaled up financial investments; multisectoral engagement and supportive partnerships, and a vision to transform mental in the Region. Everyone has a role to play in this pressing undertaking.

• The responsibility is therefore in our hands as regional leaders. Achieving what we envisage, will require that mental health is integrated into all policies and is elevated and expanded beyond the health sector.

• As Co-Chair of the PAHO High-Level Commission on Mental Health and COVID-19, I echo Dr. Etienne’s call to action and to use the opportunity to rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic to strengthen and improve mental health. I also take this opportunity to reaffirm our commitment from the OAS, to support the work of the Commission and of PAHO, to bring mental health to the forefront of our regional agenda.

Thank you.