WHO Director-General Margaret Chan praised the Region of the Americas for its global leadership in public health and urged delegates to the 52nd PAHO Directing Council to ensure that the region continues to exercise such leadership as it advances toward universal health coverage.
“The region of the Americas has long led the world in primary health care, and we expect the same leadership as countries of the world—at all levels of development—make the commitment to universal health coverage,” Chan told delegates to the 52nd PAHO Directing Council during its opening session.
“Universal heath coverage is never an easy topic, politically, financially, technically, but it is one of the most unifying concepts that public health can offer,” she said. Advancing universal health coverage is the best way to ensure “the right to health of every citizen on the planet,” she said.
“You led the charge on NCDs,” she told delegates, noting that Caribbean countries had played a catalytic role in raising the profile of NCDs on the global political agenda. “I want to thank so many of you in the audience,” she said. “So much of this suffering and so many of these deaths are preventable.”
In fighting NCDs, Chan said, “the most effective intervention—the best buy—is tobacco control” and that the tobacco industry is public health’s “number-one enemy.” She said it was important to stand with countries such as Uruguay, which are under attack by the tobacco industry for trying to implement tobacco control measures. “No coutry where their leaders are standing up and taking action to protect their people’s health should be stopped and sued. Do you agree with me?” she said to a round of applause.
Chan noted the importance of the region’s countries achieving full compliance with the International Health Regulations. Health threats including H7N9 and MERS-CoV “call for vigiliance during the upcoming cold season,” she said. “We should not let our guard down. We will do our utmost to mobilize support from partners in the region and beyond” to support capacity building for IHR.
Chan also urged delegates to support efforts to understand and address the epidemic of unexplained kidney failure in Central America, which is affecting primarily agricultural workers. She urged “more research to find out exactly what are some of the interventions we can introduce to reduce the suffering of these communities.”