By Elesha George
Health Minister Sir Molwyn Joseph was among 37 leaders who voted for a new Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) on Wednesday afternoon.
Dr Jarbas Barbosa da Silva Jr, of Brazil, was chosen to lead the 120-year-old organisation that provides critical health services and guidance to the people of the Caribbean and Latin America.
He will begin his five-year term on February 1 next year, succeeding Dr Carissa F Etienne of Dominica, who has led PAHO since 2012.
After four rounds of voting by the 37 member states and participating states of PAHO, Dr Barbosa da Silva beat Dr Camilo Alleyne of Panama by 21 to 16 votes.
Brazil and Panama were in the lead to win the position from the beginning, but neither had gained the majority votes of 20, and so members had to engage in three successive rounds of voting.
“I want to thank not only the countries that supported me, that voted for me, but all the countries in this region. We will work together with you.
“It’s not easy to follow Dr Etienne’s leadership, but I do believe that with the same commitment that we had to strengthen health, to strengthen the quality of life in our region, we will work together,” Dr Barbosa da Silva said during his acceptance speech.
He said that the high number of candidates is “a clear demonstration of the high interest” that the countries have to strengthen PAHO, and the great love and respect that member countries have for the organisation.
Haiti, Brazil, Panama, Mexico, Colombia, and Uruguay were the six candidate countries nominated to run for the position of director.
The election of Dr Barbosa da Silva is expected to be transmitted to the executive board of the World Health Organization (WHO) for his appointment as a WHO regional director.
Dr Barbosa da Silva is currently the Assistant Director at PAHO where he has led the organisation’s efforts to increase equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines and to enhance regional capacities to produce medicines and other health technologies.
He received his medical degree from the Federal University of Pernambuco, Brazil, and specialised in public health and epidemiology at the National School of Public Health, Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Rio de Janeiro.
He holds a master’s degree in medical sciences and a PhD in public health from the University of Campinas in São Paulo. Earlier in his career, he was Municipal Secretary of Health of Olinda, State Secretary of Health in Pernambuco, and Director of the National Centre for Epidemiology in Brasília.
Dr Barbosa da Silva joined PAHO in 2007 as Area Manager for Health Surveillance and Disease Management, responsible for coordinating regional activities related to the surveillance, prevention, and control of communicable and non-communicable diseases; veterinary public health; and health analysis and statistics.
In 2011, he rejoined Brazil’s Ministry of Health as Secretary of Health Surveillance, and later became Secretary of Science, Technology and Strategic Supplies.
Prior to becoming Assistant Director at PAHO, Dr Barbosa da Silva was Director-President of the Brazilian Health Regulatory Agency from 2015 to 2018.
PAHO works to improve the health and living standards of the people of the Americas and serves as WHO’s regional office.