Washington, DC (Press Release) - On the eve of World Health Day, which is Saturday, April 7 this year, the Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Carissa F. Etienne, and former President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, called for collective action to ensure that all people, everywhere have access to the health services they need.
In the Americas region, one third of the population faces obstacles to accessing health. "Health is a right, and as such we must overcome barriers to have access to care," said Etienne, noting that out-of-pocket payments that many people must make to obtain health services "constitutes the main barrier and pushes families towards poverty."
Other barriers are geographic or institutional in nature, including stigma and discrimination in health services. "It is not enough to have hospitals and health centers, these institutions must have the right combination of human resources, infrastructure and equipment, medicines and other health technologies, to avoid long waiting times and offer quality care," Etienne said.
"We need a massive regional movement and [to] listen to all voices" to move towards universal health, Etienne said. Last year, PAHO created the High Level Commission on "Universal Health in the 21st Century: 40 Years of Alma-Ata", led by Bachelet.
To achieve universal health, "we have to build national consensus, because the challenges are of such magnitude that they require the commitment and effort of all," said Bachelet.
Forty years after the Declaration of Alma-Ata - which promoted the values of the right to health, equity and solidarity - the region of the Americas continues to be one of the most inequitable in the world. Bachelet noted that there have been important advances since Alma-Ata, but that there are still major gaps between and within the countries. "At the same time that we see health centers with quality we could not have imagined in the past, there are still women and children who continue to die from totally avoidable causes," she said, adding that "inequality is the great enemy in Latin America and the Caribbean."
Bachelet said that PAHO's regional strategy for universal health along with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the sustainable health agenda for the Americas infuses new life into the path toward "health for all" outlined at Alma-Ata. She urged greater emphasis on health promotion and disease prevention, reducing segmentation and fragmentation in health services, safeguarding the working conditions of health personnel, including new technologies and innovation, and building health financing systems that promote solidarity."In this matter there are neither miracles nor shortcuts; what there is, [is] a long road of collective work that leads to more justice for all," said Bachelet.