The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) this December 2 marks the 115th anniversary of its founding in 1902 as an international organization dedicated to protecting and advancing public health in the Americas.
At 115, PAHO is the world's oldest international public health agency. During its century-plus existence, it has catalyzed Pan American cooperation that has contributed to such major regional health achievements as:
- A gain of 30 years in average life expectancy since 1902.
- The eradication of smallpox and polio from the Americas.
- The elimination of endemic transmission of measles and rubella.
- Major reductions in infant mortality.
- Elimination of onchocerciasis in Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala and Mexico; the elimination of Chagas' Disease in Brazil, Chile and Paraguay; and the elimination of trachoma in Mexico.
- The elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis in Cuba and in six Caribbean islands.
- Significant expansions of health coverage for poor and vulnerable populations in PAHO member countries.
- Progress in legislation, regulations, and fiscal measures to reduce risk factors for non-communicable diseases.
In the early years, Pan American health cooperation was focused on yellow fever and other infectious diseases that were being spread by the growing maritime commerce of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Over the past 100 years, PAHO has kept its focus on improving health by promoting collaborative efforts among its member countries. Other regional public health achievements to which PAHO has contributed include:
- The ratification by 30 of 35 countries in the Americas of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
- The establishment of Vaccination Week in the Americas, which inspired the first World Immunization Week.
- In Latin America and the Caribbean, the highest rates of coverage with antiretroviral treatment for people with HIV of any middle-lower-income region.
- In Latin America and the Caribbean, the lowest infant mortality rates of any developing region.
Today PAHO is a multilateral organization with 35 Member States from throughout the Americas. From its Washington, D.C., headquarters and country offices throughout the region, it provides technical cooperation in areas including epidemiology and outbreak response, health services organization and health planning, mental health, environmental health, health legislation, regulatory agencies, immunization, and many others (see PAHO Projects and Programs).
As Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO), PAHO is a member of the United Nations System. It simultaneously serves as the specialized health agency of the Inter-American System, together with the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).