Media Center

Press Release


  March 26, 2008

“Health is undoubtedly as indispensable a factor in combating poverty and inequity as it is to bringing about true development for our citizens,” Secretary General José Miguel Insulza of the Organization of American States (OAS) told member state delegates at today’s joint meeting of the OAS Permanent Council and the Permanent Executive Committee of the Inter-American Council for Integral Development (CEPCIDI).

Likewise, the Secretary General explained, “lack of health reduces opportunities for individuals to earn an income; affects their prospects for education and personal development; and makes them less able to develop linkages and actively participate in their community.” Insulza also called for the promotion and implementation of public policies to tackle these fundamental problems of health and marginalization in the Americas.

Chaired jointly by Permanent Council Chairman Ambassador Cornelius A. Smith, of the Bahamas, and by CEPCIDI Chair, Ambassador Abigail Castro de Pérez, of El Salvador, the meeting was convened on a mandate from a resolution issued at last year’s OAS General Assembly, concerning “Eradicating Illiteracy and Fighting Diseases that Affect Integral Development.” Besides sharing information and views on the links between poverty and health in the Americas, the OAS member state representatives also shared perspectives on possible ways and approaches to improve the health and education systems.

A central feature of the meeting was the presentation by the Pan American Organization’s (PAHO) Deputy Director, José Romero Teruel, on the links between poverty and health in the communities of the hemisphere.

Secretary General Insulza went on to acknowledge that, while significant progress has been achieved over the last two decades—as reflected by indices such as life expectancy, infant mortality and access to safe drinking water—there is still a significant gap in relation to health coverage and basic health care in rural areas and among indigenous populations, Afro-descendants and low-income groups. He cited PAHO studies that attribute most of these problems to “social factors such as poverty and exclusion.” He pointed to the example in Latin America and the Caribbean, where only salaried workers have protection or health risk coverage, “which excludes millions of individuals working in the informal economy.”

In his remarks to inaugurate the meeting, Ambassador Smith spoke about health and human value in development, underscoring the key role of health in the promotion of development to reduce poverty and inequality. He said good health helps to advance the wellbeing of citizens in any country; hence lack of health or lack of access to health care services affects a person’s ability to earn an income, find opportunity and lead a productive life.

“Together, we must find new ways of getting out of this vicious circle by emphasizing the link between economic and social policies, with particular focus on special conditions that cause poverty,” Ambassador Castro de Pérez suggested, with respect to indices she said underscore the extent of inequality in Latin America. Illustrating what happens in the poorest segments of society, Castro de Pérez said maternal mortality, lack of education, some 53 million citizens without safe drinking water, and 120 million without proper health care in Latin America are “but a few examples of that inequity and poverty in which we are trapped.”

The PAHO Assistant Director presented an overview of the evolution of the health situation in the hemisphere and its impact on the poverty situation. Using statistics from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), he said at least 12 years of schooling would be needed in order to prepare individuals to find a way out of poverty. He also shared information on a range of initiatives underway in various countries seeking to find ways to deal with the serious problems stemming from poverty in the Americas.

During the exchange that ensued at the meeting, several member states ambassadors and representatives shared their own perspectives on many of the issues raised, as they relate to the links between poverty and health, and on how to improve the situation. They also made reference to specific examples of initiatives implemented by their respective societies.

Reference: E-095/08