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Secretary General Emphasizes Connection between Health and Democracy in Opening of 52nd PAHO Directing Council

  September 30, 2013

The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, highlighted the links between democracy, development and health, during his opening address to the 52nd Directing Council of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) today in Washington, DC.

The inauguration of the event, which brings together the Ministers of Health of the Hemisphere between September 30 and October 4, included the participation of the Director of PAHO, Carissa Etienne; the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Margaret Chan; the Minister of Health of Panama and outgoing Chair of the PAHO Directing Council, Javier Díaz; the acting Manager of the Social Sector of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Hector Salazar-Sánchez; and the Assistant Secretary for Global Affairs at the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Nils Daulaire.

"Democracy, development and health are closely interrelated," said Secretary General Insulza. "That's where the importance of cooperation between our organizations lies, and that of the Inter-American System as a whole," he added. The leader of the hemispheric Organization said that "poverty, social exclusion, inequality and discrimination of all kinds - gender, age, etc.- undermine the basis of legitimacy of democratically elected governments and simultaneously affect the ability of states to design effective public health policies."

On this point, the Secretary General mentioned the efforts of the government of President Barack Obama to expand health coverage to the most vulnerable sectors of the North American country. “We offer all of our solidarity and recognition of the effort of President Obama to extend health care to all the citizens of his country,” said the OAS leader.

As results of the strengthening of the collaboration between the OAS and PAHO, the Secretary General cited the Network for Consumer Safety and Health, which coordinates efforts to ensure that goods and services in the market do not pose a health risk; the joint work on the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS; the completion of a course on the right to health and parliamentary activity; efforts to strengthen public institutions in Haiti; and collaboration in the Report on the Drug Problem in the Americas (Analytical Report and Scenarios Report), produced by the OAS under the direction of the Secretary General. On that last point, he stated that "it is essential that the OAS and PAHO support each other and combine their capacities to manage and feed the debate that has been generated as a result of the publication of the Report.”

While he applauded the results of the collaboration, the Secretary General acknowledged that "we still have clearly identified areas that need work" such as the universal access to quality health services, reduction of deaths from diseases such as tuberculosis, dengue or H1N1, inclusion and non-discrimination of the population, and combating HIV/AIDS.

For her part, the PAHO Director said the discussions this week “will direct development priorities and the flow of resources for decades to come. And how those resources flow will affect how the lives of people in our region will be shaped."

Director Etienne stressed the importance of universal health coverage to economic development, adding that "our Member States are showing that universal health coverage is not only for the wealthiest countries. They are showing that it is within reach of countries throughout the Americas. Each country will take its own path to advance this goal, but we can all aspire to achieve it.”

The Director General of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan, highlighted that universal health coverage is "one of the most powerful unifying concepts that public health can offer. Equity, solidarity and justice are the values that sustain universal health coverage, together with the right to health of all citizens of this planet."

Director Chan spoke of combating noncommunicable diseases, and stressed the importance of putting controls on the use of tobacco. "We have to face big tobacco, that is our number one public health enemy," said the WHO Director.

The Minister of Health of Panama and outgoing Chair of the Directing Council, Javier Diaz , cited as central factors in the issue "the right to health, social justice, solidarity, citizen participation, equity, intersectoralism, and universal coverage, which imply guaranteeing that all people have access to needed health services in prevention, promotion, treatment, recovery, rehabilitation and palliative care."

"All member countries have the capacity for facilitating the exchange of knowledge and experiences," said Minister Diaz, who called for greater exchange of experiences between countries because this "leads to the generation of sustained public health policies, so that each country more effective and efficient in making an impact."

The acting Manager of the Social Sector of the IDB, Hector Salazar-Sánchez, spoke of the progress in the region in recent decades reflected in longevity and lower infant mortality, and applauded PAHO's role in these achievements. However, he noted that there are still challenges to face, and gave as examples the "unacceptable levels of health inequality," increasing risk factors and the incidence of chronic non-communicable diseases, as well as the persistence of neglected tropical diseases.

"To meet these challenges, the Bank will support countries in their commitment to move toward universal health coverage, promote the overall strengthening of health systems, multi-sectoral work, and a focus on the social and environmental determinants of health, while at the same time encouraging innovation and promoting the efficient use of financial resources," said Salazar-Sánchez.

For his part, the Assistant Secretary for Global Affairs at the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Nils Daulaire, spoke of the efforts of the government of President Barack Obama to implement universal health coverage, despite facing strong political opposition. He asserted that universal coverage is "a shared priority in the Americas,” although each country "will take its own path."

The U.S. official said that many of the most difficult challenges in health care, "are not confined within national borders." Therefore, he said , "working together as a region to turn common desires into effective solutions has never been more important."

More information on the event is available here.

A gallery of photos of the event is available here.

For more information, please visit the OAS Website at

Reference: E-357/13