The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) has described 2016 as a year of “serious challenges” for health in the Caribbean and other places in the Americas. These range from the Zika epidemic, with the birth of thousands of babies with congenital malformations to increasing incidence of diabetes.
The Washington-based health organisation said that it worked with the countries of the Region to address emergencies and disasters, including Hurricane Matthew in Haiti, while continuing to support country efforts to reduce, control and even eliminate a myriad of diseases.
In 2016, PAHO declared 48 countries that had the Zika Virus, including Brazil, Guyana, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, St Lucia, St Vincent, and the Grenadines, St Martin, St Kitts-Nevis, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos Islands, United States, and Venezuela, among others.
In April, PAHO said one in 12 inhabitants — some 62 million people — live with diabetes in the Americas, including the Caribbean. It said the number has tripled since 1980, declaring that diabetes is currently the fourth-leading cause of death in the hemisphere, following heart attacks, strokes and dementia.
If current trends continue, PAHO said experts warned that nearly 110 million people in the Region will have diabetes by 2040.
In September, the health organisation said the Region of the Americas was the first in the world to have eliminated measles, a viral disease that can cause severe health problems, including pneumonia, brain swelling and even death.
This achievement culminates a 22-year effort involving mass vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella throughout the Americas, PAHO said.
With new diseases emerging every year, severe weather events on the rise, and large numbers of people living in disaster-prone areas, PAHO said the countries of the Americas now more than ever needed to be prepared to respond to health emergencies.
PAHO said it developed the new “Resilient Health Systems” framework to provide an “integrated approach” for its technical cooperation with countries in the areas of disaster preparedness, risk reduction and response; disease surveillance and outbreak management; and health system strengthening and universal health, including in the areas of health sector governance and regulation.
The framework calls for actions and investments in all these areas and within a broader sustainable development framework that fosters human development, social participation, and economic and social stability.
HIV/AIDS rising threat
“Take the Challenge: End AIDS” was PAHO’s campaign slogan for World AIDS Day on December 1, which urged Governments and society to intensify nine measures to end the epidemic of AIDS by 2030.
“HIV remains a threat to global health and requires a strategic global and regional response,” Dr Etienne said. “We must intensify efforts in combined prevention, early detection and access to treatment, which are the keys to halting transmission of the virus in the coming years.”
PAHO said nearly two million people were living with HIV in Latin America and the Caribbean, adding that each year 100,000 people acquire the Virus and 50,000 die from AIDS-related causes.
Between 2000 and 2015, PAHO said new HIV infections were reduced by 25 per cent and deaths by 23 per cent. However, in the last five years, there has been a slight increase in cases (0.7 per cent), particularly among men.