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Washington, D.C., 3 October 2014 (PAHO/WHO) -- The 53rd Directing Council of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) ended today, following a week of discussions and decisions about major public health issues in the Region of the Americas.

PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne praised the ministers of health and other high-level delegates for their work during the meeting. "The debate has been lively and enriching as we sought to reach consensus with respect and sensitivity on how to collectively address the pressing public health challenges that confront our countries and our region," she said.

Among the results of this week's deliberations was a series of strategies and plans of action designed to reduce childhood obesity, expand mental health care, promote the rights of and better care for people with disabilities, improve the safety and sufficiency of blood supplies, prevent avoidable blindness, and enhance coordination of humanitarian assistance during emergencies and disasters.

Etienne noted that, among the decisions taken during the meeting, "one area stands out above all for its historic significance and for the impact it promises to have on health in our Region. That is the goal of access to universal health and universal health coverage." Adopted by the Directing Council on Thursday, the new regional strategy on universal health care and universal access to health "reflects Pan American solidarity at its best, as we have come to agreement based on deeply shared values and historically shared lessons," she said.

Etienne pledged to work closely with Member States over the coming year to advance the agenda set by the 53rd Directing Council and to address new and emerging public health challenges in PAHO Member States.

"While the road ahead of us may be long and challenging, I firmly believe that, encouraged and inspired by our collective achievements and reassured of your committed leadership, we will continue to successfully reach our agreed milestones," she said.