The Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region continues to inspire the world, showing how unwavering determination can help achieve public health elimination targets.
For example, earlier this year the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and other leading global health experts said goodbye to rubella in the Americas, a virus also known as German measles. This exciting accomplishment is the result of a concerted 15-year initiative to provide widespread provision of the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella).
Announced on April 30th
We are especially excited to celebrate these recent victories with a public health champion from Córdoba, Argentina, Dr. Mirta Roses, who recently visited the Sabin Vaccine Institute office in Washington, D.C. Holding medical and public health degrees, serving two terms as Director of PAHO and representing the LAC region on the Global Fund Board provides only a small snapshot of her passion for equitable access to health. We are proud to have her serve as Special Envoy for the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, speaking out on behalf of the hundreds of millions of people suffering unnecessarily from preventable diseases.
Dr. Roses began working at PAHO in 1984 – and became Director 20 years later. She took action quickly as Director, spearheading the first-ever Vaccination Week in the Americas in 2003. This annual campaign was inspired by the Sucre Agreement, signed 23 April 2002 by the Andean Ministers of Health (Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela) plus Chile, recommending simultaneous implementation of their national immunization weeks. Following a 2002 measles outbreak in Venezuela and Colombia, this coordinated effort was planned to prevent future outbreaks across the Andean Region.
During the final stages of polio eradication in the Americas in 1991, Dr. Roses witnessed how the power of social communication and community involvement transformed vaccination campaigns into health celebrations. Entire villages, countries, leaders and celebrities were eager to participate, injecting a vibrant, dynamic energy into the campaigns.
Building off the momentum and success of this approach, annual Vaccination Weeks in the Americas helped create an even larger health celebration by sharing educational materials, screening for communicable and chronic diseases and delivering deworming treatments. This platform also helps early detection of NTDs, disabilities and micronutrient deficiencies.
As an example, in Honduras, the Ministry of Health uses this campaign to deliver deworming treatments to children across at the country alongside vaccines and other interventions. Honduras has also integrated water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) practices, as well as vitamin A supplementation, as part of this effort. Since poor WASH contributes to increased intestinal worm infections, and intestinal worms can worsen and intensify malnutrition, integrating these three health interventions is essential for maximizing the health of children.
This unprecedented model caught the attention of people across the world. One by one, countries from all six WHO regions started employing the same approach – beginning with countries from the Eastern Mediterranean, reaching all the way to South-East Asia. By 2011, the World Health Organization made it official: World Immunization Week will happen every year during the last week of April.
These successes demonstrate the sharp and unwavering determination of people, communities and partnerships in the LAC region. We look forward to celebrating future success with Dr. Roses, PAHO and other partners, and inspiring other countries and regions to learn from lessons learned and best practices.
By Whitney McInvale and Alex Gordon
Earlier this this year, Director Emeritus of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and Special Envoy for the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, sat down with the Diplomatic Courier a leading global affairs magazine to discuss her experience as the first female Regional Director of the World Health Organization (WHO), and her thoughts on the post 2015 development agenda and the Ebola crisis.
During her interview, Dr. Roses shared interesting insights from her distinguished career as a public health champion.
On being the only woman in the room…
“In my time at medical school, women were the minority. … And of course, almost all of the professors were male. Also in the hospital environment—with the exception of nurses, who were all female—the doctors were all male. That was the gender division of labor. But I think that my generation was the generation of change. We started occupying some of the positions that had never been occupied by women before.”
Dr. Roses elaborated that once men were ready to challenge gender norms, male bosses and mentors began to open doors for her. These opportunities, combined with her skilled and tireless work, led her to become the first woman regional director of the WHO. And now, more and more woman are taking top positions in the WHO, she explains.
“Today, we can say that we have a Regional Director in the Euro-region, also the first woman. The first female Regional Director in Southeast Asia, and the first female Regional Director for Africa was just elected in November. We also have a female Regional Director that succeeded me in the Americas. So now there are four female Regional Directors…and we have a female Director General, Dr. Margaret Chan.”
On her passion for eliminating neglected tropical diseases (NTDs)…
“I am also a Special Envoy for the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases. [There is a] big coalition of many organizations working for the elimination of neglected tropical diseases in the world by 2020.
[NTDs] are mostly parasitic diseases that have been [with] humanity for thousands of years. Today, we have all the tools and knowledge to eliminate them. …they are still so related to poverty, to vulnerable people, and to excluded communities that we call them ‘neglected.’”
On the Post 2015 Development Agenda…
As the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) come to a close, the Diplomatic Courier asked Dr. Roses to discuss her thoughts on what the forthcoming post-2015 development agenda will – and should – focus on:
“I think that the struggle is, again, to find a short list that will focus the attention of all countries on what the world requires to become more peaceful, more equitable, safer and more sustainable. I think that the concern about the environment is now right at the top. I think that the environment, along with peace, security and human rights, will become [more important] than they were in the MDGs.”
Dr. Roses has also voiced her support for the inclusion of NTDs in the post-2015 development agenda, stating that:
“If NTDs are not clearly identified in the final post-2015 development agenda and the corresponding sustainable development goals, they will once again remain as forgotten and invisible as the people and communities affected by them.”
On the Ebola crisis…
“There are also many lessons learned, particularly the fact that we need to strengthen health systems where the people are. If the people don’t have tools for everyday problems, including the delivery of babies, accidents, and so on, no one will be looking at the problem and no one will be able to respond to the problem.”
To read the full interview, click here.
Beginning tomorrow, global health partners around the world will be celebrating World Immunization Week. While the week’s events primarily focus on achieving equitable access to immunization, the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases is particularly excited about the opportunities World Immunization Week presents for integrating deworming and immunization campaigns.
In Honduras, for example, the Ministry of Health has used World Immunization Week as a platform to deworm hundreds of thousands of children throughout the country.
Read our Honduras case study here: HONDURAS: LEADING THE WAY IN THE AMERICAS THROUGH INTEGRATED EFFORTS TO TREAT NEGLECTED TROPICAL DISEASES (NTDS)
Integrating deworming with immunization campaigns under the umbrella of World Immunization Week is an extremely cost-effective way to prevent many diseases at the same time. By providing deworming medicine alongside immunizations, Honduras is maximizing the impact of its health interventions.
Honduras has also integrated water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) practices, as well as vitamin A supplementation into World Immunization Week. Since poor WASH contributes to increased intestinal worm infections, and intestinal worms can worsen and intensify malnutrition, integrating these three health interventions is essential for maximizing the health of children.
Honduras’ unique and successfully-integrated approach to fighting intestinal worms should be celebrated and replicated. To learn more about the country’s efforts, read our case study here.
More than 100 million people are affected by one or more neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) in the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region. As a former Director of the Pan American Health Organization, I’ve seen the suffering caused by these diseases first-hand. At the same time, I have also learnt what can be achieved when endemic countries and international partners put NTDs – and the people affected by them – front and center in their policies.
The World Health Organization’s Third Report on NTDs, released last month, rightly puts a strong emphasis on equity and shared prosperity – themes that are at the very core of tackling NTDs.
The report, “Investing to Overcome the Global Impact of Neglected Tropical Diseases,” charts a new course by outlining the investments needed to reach the WHO Roadmap goals– a critical guide for the global effort to control and eliminate NTDs by 2020. Importantly, it also examines what needs to be done to achieve universal coverage of all people in need by 2030.
The new WHO report calls attention to progress made, including in the LAC region, which is a source of pride and hope for all involved. The region’s milestones can serve as a model for other endemic countries and show the world what’s truly achievable:
- In 2013, Colombia became the first country in the world to reach WHO-verified elimination of onchocerciasis (river blindness), followed by Ecuador in 2014.
- Guatemala and Mexico are on track to eliminate transmission of onchocerciasis, leaving just one border area between Brazil and Venezuela with ongoing transmission of the disease.
- More than half of the regions countries with endemic Chagas disease have eliminated transmission by the diseases principal domestic insect vector, and 20 of 21 endemic countries have implemented universal blood screening for Chagas.
- Costa Rica, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago are no longer endemic for lymphatic filariasis as of 2011. More than 7 million people were treated for this disease in 2013, most of them in Haiti.
Landmark commitments like the 2012 London Declaration on NTDs and the 2013 World Health Assembly NTD resolution have helped sustain political will towards this effort. These commitments have influenced further action in the Americas, where commitments from the Organization of American States and the Council of Ministers of Health of Central America and the Dominican Republic accelerated the fight against NTDs.
Globally, over 800 million NTD treatments were delivered in 2012 alone– an outstanding result achieved through strong partnerships with pharmaceutical companies, endemic countries, affected communities, bilateral and multilateral organizations and implementing partners.
But, we still must finish what we’ve started and accelerate progress towards the 2020 goals. This will help set the stage for success as we look ahead to achieve universal coverage of everyone in need by 2030.
Many of the people affected by NTDs live in middle income countries, and the report calls for more domestic resources to be mobilized and more equitably distributed, including among the poorest and most marginalized people. Similarly, there is significant scope for development banks and donors, as well as emerging players like the BRICS, to finance NTD efforts by employing innovative models and leveraging public-private partnerships. Cross-sectoral collaboration with the WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene); nutrition; maternal and child health; and education communities is increasing access to NTD interventions, while also enhancing impact and ensuring sustainability.
The WHO report endorses the fact that controlling and eliminating NTDs paves the way for poverty alleviation and shared prosperity for all. As I’ve said before, targets to control and eliminate NTDs must be included in global efforts to address poverty and inequality, including the post-2015 development agenda and the corresponding Sustainable Development Goals.
I encourage you to read the full WHO report here.