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Washington, D.C., 30 September (PAHO/WHO) Health officials from the Americas today approved a plan of action to include health in all public policies that can impact the well-being of the population.

The Plan of Action on Health in All Policies was discussed during the 53rd Directing Council of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). The plan promotes an approach to public policies across sectors that systematically takes into account the health implications of decisions and that prevents harmful health impacts, to improve population health and health equity.

Over the past 30 years, life expectancy at birth in the Americas has increased from 69.2 years in 1980 to 76.1 years in 2011. Child malnutrition has dropped to below 10% since 2005, and child mortality decreased by 50% between 1990 and 2009. However, these health gains have not been shared equally between or within countries. Health inequities are based on ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, income level, place of residence, employment, working conditions, and other characteristics.

"Health in all policies focuses on the social and environmental determinants of health, which are often better addressed through policies and actions outside the health sector," said Luiz Galvão, Chief of the PAHO/WHO Special Unit on Sustainable Development and Health Equity. "In practice, this means integrating health considerations into a broader range of related policy areas, such as employment, education and social policy." 

"The conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age have a major impact on their health," said Kira Fortune, PAHO Advisor on Social Determinants of Health. "The health challenges facing our region go well beyond the reach of the health sector, so engaging and collaborating with other sectors is critical to improving the health and well-being of our communities."

The plan of action urges countries to:

  • Champion health and the promotion of health equity as a priority and take effective action on the social determinants of health
  • Develop mechanisms to ensure that public policies take into account health impacts
  • Use relevant tools to identify multisectoral actions for health
  • Increase the transparency of decision-making and engagement
  • Involve local communities and civil society actors in the development, implementation, and monitoring of policies across sectors.

The plan calls on PAHO to provide support through technical cooperation with its Member States as they implement the health-in-all-policies approach. This includes building necessary capacities, structures, and mechanisms, and facilitating the exchange of experiences between countries and among agencies of the United Nations and Inter-American systems.

PAHO's Directing Council meets once a year, in years when the Pan American Sanitary Conference is not held, to set the Organization's policies and priorities. Participating delegations include health authorities from PAHO's 35 Member States and representatives of its four Associate Members and two Observer States. In addition to issuing mandates for PAHO technical cooperation programs, the meeting also serves as a forum for technical staff and government representatives to share information and ideas on health in the Americas.

PAHO works with the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of their populations. Founded in 1902, it is the world's oldest international public health organization. PAHO acts as the WHO Regional Office for the Americas and is the specialized health agency of the Inter-American system.