(CMC) Health Ministers from the Caribbean and other countries have agreed on a new health agenda to combat diseases and attain universal health by 2030.
The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), which is holding its 29th Pan American Sanitary Conference in Washington, DC, said that the meeting also agreed on actions to strengthen tobacco control, maintain the elimination of measles and rubella, and improve the health of indigenous, Afro-descendant and Roma peoples.
“The health leaders approved an ambitious and comprehensive program to combat disease and make health systems in their countries universal and sustainable by 2030,” PAHO said.
It said that the Sustainable Health Agenda for the Americas 2030, which draws inspiration from the United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda 2030, was adopted by unanimity during the 29th Pan American Sanitary Conference.
The new agenda commits countries to achieve 11 goals and 60 targets that will be used to measure progress towards those goals.
PAHO said these range from reaching universal health coverage to ending the HIV / AIDS epidemic in the Americas, including the Caribbean, by 2030.
PAHO said the top health authorities committed to adopt legislation to establish 100 per cent smoke-free environments in all countries of the Americas by 2022, one of the measures considered most effective by the World Health Organization (WHO) to control the tobacco epidemic and prevent associated diseases.
Currently, PAHO said 17 of the 35 countries in the region that are members of PAHO lack national regulations that establish 100 per cent smoke-free environments in all public settings, in closed workspaces and on public transport.
PAHO said this measure is considered one of the four “best buys” for the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases, along with the inclusion of large health warnings with images on all tobacco packages, tobacco taxes, and a total ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.
The new strategy aims to accelerate the implementation of these four measures, which are part of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), PAHO said, noting that the treaty was ratified in 2005, “but its implementation has been uneven in a region with about 127 million smokers”.
PAHO said the region of the Americas was declared free of endemic transmission of rubella and congenital rubella syndrome in 2015, and of measles in 2016.
This elimination, the first in the world, was the culmination of a 22-year effort that included mass vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella throughout the continent, PAHO said.
But, it said, since the measles virus is highly contagious and continues to circulate in other parts of the world, as does rubella, the region remains at risk of outbreaks of these diseases.
Before elimination, PAHO said some 158,000 rubella cases were reported in Latin America and the Caribbean in 1997 alone, and about 101,800 deaths were attributable to measles between 1971 and 1979 in the Americas.
In order to maintain this elimination, PAHO said Ministers of Health of the region approved an action plan that establishes four strategic lines: To guarantee universal access to vaccination services; strengthen surveillance; develop national and operational capacity; and set up standard mechanisms to provide a rapid response to imported cases.
PAHO said Health Ministers committed to combat the barriers to health faced by indigenous, Afro-descendant and Roma peoples with the approval of a new ethnicity and health policy.
Poor health outcomes among ethnic groups are common in the Americas, according to PAHO.
It said maternal and infant mortality is consistently higher among indigenous and Afro-descendant groups.
In some countries, PAHO said HIV infection rates are more than nine times higher among Afro-descendants than Caucasians, and malnutrition among indigenous children is higher than among the general population.
“These populations also tend to have higher rates of violence against women and suicide,” says the new policy.
PAHO said the health disparities faced by these ethnic groups are the result of various obstacles in access to health services, such as geographical, economic and cultural obstacles.
The new policy, according to PAHO, focuses on strategic lines to improve health of ethnic groups that include generating evidence, with data disaggregated by ethnic group; policy action; social participation to create alliances with different ethnic populations; recognition of ancestral knowledge and traditional medicine, and capacity building in health professionals and community health workers.