PAHO director says health is a right of the people and responsibility of gov’t

Health is a human right, and it is governments’ responsibility to ensure that right, said the Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, during the closing session of the Global Conference on Primary Health Care in Astana, Kazakhstan.

“Health is not a privilege, nor a commodity. It is a fundamental human right,” said Etienne, adding that “national governments must lead and own national processes towards universal health, in coordination with partners.”

The Global Conference on Primary Health Care was organized by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and the Government of Kazakhstan and was attended by representatives of governments, nongovernmental organizations, international agencies, academic institutions and youth organizations.

“We know what works and what we need to do,” said Etienne, referring to what is known as the Primary Health Care (PHC) strategy. Based on the principles of equity and solidarity in health, the PHC strategy was first endorsed by global health leaders 40 years ago in the 1978 Declaration of Alma-Ata, signed in the city that served as Kazakhstan’s capital until 1997.

During the Astana meeting, delegates from more than 120 countries—including many from the Americas—reaffirmed their countries’ commitments to PHC and signed the Declaration of Astana, in which signatory countries pledge to strengthen their primary health care systems as an essential step toward achieving health for everyone, everywhere. Universal health is also called for in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

PHC is a strategy for human health and well-being and social development that is centered on people, their families and communities. “It is not merely the first level of care, nor it is the provision of a limited package of services for the poor,” said PAHO Director Etienne, who also serves as WHO’s Regional Director for the Americas.

PAHO’s Director challenged young people to become more involved in health, saying, “You are our future, the energy that will drive change.” She called on women to urge leaders to ensure that gender is central to decision-making in health. And she challenged academicians to invest in operational research that is context specific and focused on the needs of countries and the health systems, to provide evidence that will guide and support policymakers to take the right decisions.

Etienne also recognized the role of the private sector as health care providers and their importance in innovation and technological development. Emphasizing the principle of social responsibility, however, she urged that the private sector “Innovate, but based on health needs.”

Addressing development partners, Etienne said that the Declaration of Astana and the SDGs offer a “golden moment” that must be seized. “We cannot leave here and repeat the mistakes of the past” by reducing primary health care to minimum sets of poor services for the poor.

“There is no other way” than PHC to achieve health for everyone, everywhere, said Etienne. “Primary Health Care is smart. Primary Health Care is right.”

(Agency inputs)

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