Geneva, 20 May 2019 (PAHO/WHO) - When presenting the main topics for discussion at the World Health Assembly to delegations from the countries of the Americas, Carissa F. Etienne, Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), urged them to ensure that their interventions reflect the Region’s position on universal health, which includes universal health coverage and access.

The World Health Assembly will be extensively discussing universal health coverage, not only at the plenary, but also in the different decisions that will be made on the subject. In her address to the delegates of the Americas, the PAHO Director recalled the process involved in reaching a consensus in 2014 on universal health coverage and access.

Dr. Etienne with delegation from the Americas

“The difference with the other countries is that all our Member States stressed that universal access to health is as important as universal health coverage. We call it universal health,” Etienne said. She also stated that the Member States of the Americas put a strong emphasis on the need to address the social determinants of health and remove the barriers that hinder universal health coverage and access.

Duane Sands, Minister of Health of Bahamas

The meeting of the delegations of the Americas was headed by the Minister of Health and Social Development of the Bahamas, Duane Sands, who is also the President of PAHO’s Directing Council. He was joined by the Director of the Multilateral Relations Division of Canada’s Public Health Agency, Nicolas Palanque, who is also the President of PAHO’s Executive Committee, and by Emilio Santelices, the Minister of Health of Chile, which holds the Presidency of the Group of Countries of the Americas.

The PAHO Director brought up the report with ten recommendations on what the countries can do to ensure that all people have health access and coverage in the Region, which was prepared by the High-level Commission, is titled “Universal  Health in the 21st Century: 40 Years of Alma-Ata”, and was presented in Mexico last April. The Director also referred to PAHO’s appeal to the countries to commit to reducing by at least 30% the barriers that hinder access to health by 2030, and to allocate at least 30% of the entire public health budget to primary health care by the same year.

Ms. Etienne indicated that during the Assembly they will be working on the High-level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage that will be held at the United Nations in September of this year. Mexico is negotiating on behalf of the Americas on the resolution at that meeting.

Ms. Relief Flores Liera, Mexico’s Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, reported that in response to the recommendations made by the Commission, delegates from the 31 countries that attended the launch of the report agreed with certain points suggested by the Commission, such as: developing care models based on primary health care, removing barriers to universal health access, addressing social integration processes and social determinants of health, and investing in human resources. The Ambassador urged the countries to share the areas of consensus reached by the Region on universal health, and to reflect them in the decisions adopted at the Assembly.

Argentina’s Secretary of Government for Health, Adolfo Rubinstein, pointed out that his country is prioritizing universal health coverage, which it “understands as effective, quality health coverage that is strongly focused on the implementation of primary care services. We fervently support universal coverage based on primary health care,” he concluded.