Category Archives: Latin America and the Caribbean

Snapshot of the Diplomatic Courier’s Interview with Dr. Mirta Roses Periago, Director Emeritus, Pan American Health Organization

 

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.

Better Together: Integrating Immunization and Deworming during World Immunization Week

 

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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.

A New WHO Report Brings Fresh Data and Ideas on Ending NTDs

 

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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 region’s countries with endemic Chagas disease have eliminated transmission by the disease’s 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.

A Wish List for 2015: 7 Achievable Victories in the fight against Neglected Tropical Diseases

 

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By Dr. Mirta Roses Periago

A new year always brings about new hope and renewed commitments. 2015 is a pivotal year for the international community and also for the call to end neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). So, here goes my “wish list” for 2015, which includes seven achievable yet ambitious victories for the global health and development community.

1. A step closer to declaring Latin America and the Caribbean free of river blindness

In 2013, Colombia became the first country in the world, as declared by the WHO to have eliminated river blindness transmission, and Ecuador followed shortly after in 2014. These countries show what can be achieved with unwavering political will and sustained action.

Mexico and Guatemala have stopped transmission of river blindness and are already in advanced stages with the WHO to take the final steps towards verifying elimination.

So, I am confident that Brazil and Venezuela will be successful in targeting the Americas’ final cases of river blindness, located along their borders among the indigenous Yanomami community. Through south south cooperation, they have joined forces to ensure that the all the Yanomami receive access to the treatments they need – tackling the last stronghold of river blindness in the region.

2. Progress towards eliminating lymphatic filariasis in the Latin America and the Caribbean

About 13.4 million people across the Latin American and Caribbean are at risk of lymphatic filariasis (LF), nearly 80 percent of them in Haiti. Despite challenges in recent years, including a cholera outbreak and earthquake, Haiti has been able to reach the entire population – about 10 million people – through mass drug administration (MDA). I hope to see continued support from the Haitian government and partners to interrupt the transmission of LF.

Additionally, I hope to see Brazil eliminate LF from the last active site in the country, located in the state of Pernambuco. Brazil has already eliminated LF in 8 states; this success is a clear reflection of their longstanding commitment and dedication to disease control and public health

3. The Inclusion of NTDs as part of Canada’s Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) policies and programs

Many of Canada’s priority partner countries carry significant burdens of malnutrition and NTDs, including Haiti, as well as Indonesia and Tanzania, posing a serious threat to maternal, newborn and child health. NTDs lead to stunting, wasting and the loss of Vitamin A and iron – hindering child growth and causing adverse pregnancy outcomes.

That is why I traveled to Ottawa last fall and called on Canadian policymakers to make sure that they integrate NTDs into their development strategies. Canada can help save lives and make a real difference for women and children by making sure that they have access to NTD treatments. This is a smart policy choice, one that could be financed through the Global Financing Facility for Every Woman, Every Child.

4. Regional Bodies translate promises into concrete action

Canada, Costa Rica and Brazil are among the 35 countries that passed a resolution in the Organization of American States in 2013, pledging to end the suffering of the 100 million people impacted by NTDs in the Americas. Health Ministers from Central America have also recognized the burden of NTDs, most recently at their 2013 regional meeting of the Council of Ministers of Health of Central America and the Dominican Republic (COMISCA).

I hope that the OAS, COMISCA and other regional organizations will leverage these important policy commitments to catalyze greater financial support and partnerships – just as COMISCA did for malaria. In addition to discussing NTDs during their 2013 regional health summit, several countries rallied together to eliminate malaria in the region.

Partners followed suit and the Global Fund invested $10.2 million to support this regional initiative, adding to the national malaria grants already approved.  The results of these commitments are clear: malaria rates have been falling, often times dramatically, across Latin America– and the region is just steps away from eliminating this disease as a public health threat. This is an excellent example of how strong, united regional commitments can accelerate global health efforts – and one that can be applied to the fight against NTDs.

5. BRICS fight NTDs at home and abroad

Last December, the BRICS Health Ministers gathered in Brasilia for the 4th Health Ministers meeting, where they added NTDs to their collective agenda for the very first time. I am very excited to see the BRICS countries work together to help see the end of NTDs by 2020.

I encourage the BRICS to build on this commitment by continuing to prioritize NTDs within their own countries.  I also hope they will explore ways to fight NTDs across the globe. The New Development Bank could offer a venue for the BRICS to finance NTD control efforts as part of their broader sustainable development projects.

6. G7 leaders make financial commitments to end NTDs by 2020

The G7 is off to an excellent start in 2015. Neglected and poverty-related diseases made it onto the G7 agenda for the upcoming June 2015 Summit. This year is critical for the G7 to take immediate action to close the books on their unfulfilled promise to expand access to NTD treatments.

7. Post-2015 Development Agenda Includes NTDs

I’m looking forward to seeing how the post-2015 development agenda takes shape this year. We absolutely must utilize existing global health solutions – including the NTD treatments generously donated by pharmaceutical companies. I am happy that NTDs were included as a health priority in the final Sustainable Working Group framework. However, they were not specifically mentioned in UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s recent synthesis report. 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. Let us make them a health priority so that we can see the end of NTDs by 2020.