Health is not only an indispensable right but a condition that enables the full enjoyment of other rights. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development reflects this view by proposing a universal, integrated, and indivisible vision that clearly expresses the interlinked nature of human health and well-being with economic growth and environmental sustainability. This ambitious Agenda will set the course for public policies in the coming decades, and achieving its goals will require more collaborative approaches to address inequities in the Region across the social, environmental, and economic dimensions of development, including a clear intergenerational vision.
Health in the Americas+ is the latest 5-year report issued by the Pan American Health Organization, covering the years 2012– 2017, on the health situation, health determinants, and health trends in the Region of the Americas. This edition of Health in the Americas has much to celebrate. The 2012–2017 period saw the culmination of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and within this framework, Latin America and the Caribbean made important strides against poverty and extreme poverty, hunger, and infant and childhood mortality. People in the Region are living longer, healthier lives. As highlighted in this report, mortality due to noncommunicable diseases declined, as has the incidence of certain communicable diseases, such as tuberculosis and HIV, and public health expenditure as a percentage of gross domestic product increased.
But challenges still remain.
Chief among these are the profound health disparities that plague our region. Many in Latin America and the Caribbean lack access to basic health care. Inequalities in health outcomes are present from the start of life and are shaped by the intersection of characteristics such as socioeconomic status, gender, race, ethnicity, and place of residence. As the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) has affirmed, these health inequalities accumulate along the life course and prevent the full enjoyment of rights and full participation in all spheres of our societies. They also have serious implications for the intergenerational transmission of well-being to future generations.
It is also true that the remarkable and widespread recent gains in health in the Region have occurred in a favorable economic context and one where member governments made a commitment to combat poverty and reduce inequalities. In the present context of economic deceleration, it is especially critical for governments in Latin America and the Caribbean to strengthen their commitment to universal health coverage, which is a crucial step to building social protection systems from a rights-based perspective. Progress must also be made to improve the quality of health services and promote an integrated and holistic approach to health in order to create positive synergistic relationships with other dimensions of well-being.
Moreover, many countries in the Region are simultaneously responding to the health pressures associated with an increasingly elderly population, with a concomitant rise in chronic noncommunicable diseases, and the persistent challenge of reemerging and emerging infectious diseases, such as dengue and Zika. Addressing the unpredictable but often devastating impact of climate change, including the increase in natural disasters, on morbidity and mortality, particularly among the poor, the young and the elderly, and women, is also a challenge.
Amid these challenges there are also opportunities. The ever-evolving technological landscape will continue to revolutionize the health field, from its management and infrastructure, to integrate new products and mechanisms for improved service delivery. This technological progress can lead to improvements in health, even in the context of slow or stagnant economic growth. While these technological developments certainly have the potential to improve the population’s health and quality of life, and close inequity gaps, caution must be exercised so they do not inadvertently exacerbate health inequalities—as certain segments of the population are able to reap their benefits while others are left at the margins.
As we transition to the new development agenda, we also have the opportunity to learn from the MDG experience, which yields valuable lessons for improving population health. Some of these lessons include the need for better coordination among public sector entities in implementing and following up on health-related development goals, the need to establish precise goals and indicators that respond to regional- and country-level realities, and the need to improve data sources in order to have highquality, periodic, and disaggregated statistics, so that we may go beyond regional and country averages to identify and address the needs of those who are being left behind, in the spirit of the 2030 Agenda.
The people of the Americas are its most valuable resource. Promoting and protecting their health are essential in order to advance towards more equitable and productive societies. I believe that fulfilling the 2030 Agenda and guaranteeing the full enjoyment of rights, particularly in these uncertain times, will require new coalitions, alliances, and pacts, both within our countries and between them, so that we may all, together, build the inclusive, fair, and sustainable future to which we aspire.
Executive Secretary United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean
Health in the Americas 2017 Summary: Regional Outlook and Country Profiles (ePub)
Health in the Americas 2017 Summary: Regional Outlook and Country Profiles (pdf) Values and principles of universal health (pdf)