American ministers agreed on Monday in Panama a road map to improve public health systems and jointly face future pandemics, in a meeting that was also attended by an envoy from the United States.
Some twenty countries of the continent, including the United States and Canada, will draw up a plan to improve public health, which will be developed in four other meetings, to face future pandemics or health crises jointly.
“We have agreed that early next year we will present conclusions and recommendations for action,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment, José Fernández, told reporters.
The plan includes increasing universal access to healthcare, increasing public aid in times of crisis and improving transparency in the management of funds.
The objective “is to have a better investment to strengthen health systems and guarantee people’s access and better prepare countries for a future pandemic, that is key”, said the new director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Brazilian Jarbas Barbosa.
This meeting was the first high-level meeting of the Economic and Health Dialogue of the Americas (EHA), an initiative launched at the last Summit of the Americas to join forces to improve the continent’s health systems.
One of the main topics of the meeting was the development of common strategies for the production and distribution of medical supplies, such as vaccines, masks, gloves or ventilators, in the event of a new health crisis.
During the pandemic, the supply chains “were not sufficiently diverse or adequate to be prepared,” said Fernandez.
Therefore, “we have to find a way for more countries to produce vaccine components, systems and medical products that will prepare us so that we do not depend solely on a single country,” he added.
According to Fernandez, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Organization of American States and PAHO have committed to finance and support this initiative, which does not yet have a defined budget.
“We know that we have to think about very strategic projects, because we are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars,” Barbosa told AFP.
It’s not easy
The ministers also pledged to allocate at least 6% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to health, as opposed to the 4% that most Latin American countries now contribute.
“We know it is not easy because everyone is still in the process of recovering from the economic losses due to the pandemic,” Barbosa acknowledged.
Latin America, with 8% of the world’s population, accounted for 30% of deaths from covid-19, the U.S. undersecretary noted.
PAHO warns that the danger of covid-19 persists, although the situation is much better, with an incidence of cases 20 to 30 times lower than a year ago.
“The first thing we have to do is to see what we did wrong and how we can improve joint actions,” said Fernandez at the beginning of the meeting.
PAHO has pointed out that Latin America faces a complex epidemiological panorama due to the persistence of communicable diseases, the risk of outbreaks and epidemics and the effects of climate change.
Experts have also warned that the pandemic led health systems to focus on combating covid-19 to the detriment of attention to other diseases, in a region with great inequalities where millions of people cannot access basic services.
“We have learned that in the face of threats on a global scale, it takes more than the individual preparedness of our different countries,” said Panama’s Minister of Health, Luis Francisco Sucre.