Ending the Covid pandemic and building resilient health are key priorities for new PAHO Director

New PAHO Director Dr Jarbas Barbosa (foreground, right) with Antigua and Barbuda’s Minister of Health Sir Molwyn Joseph, and outgoing PAHO Director Dr Carissa Etienne (far right, back row) (Photo courtesy PAHO)
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Dr Jarbas Barbosa was sworn in yesterday as the new Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), pledging to work in partnership with member states to end the pandemic and ensure that the region’s health systems recover stronger than before.

He takes office today, replacing Dr Carissa Etienne who held the post since 2013.

“Countries in the Americas face a complex epidemiological landscape, with the stubborn persistence of communicable diseases, the risk of outbreaks and epidemics, the rise of non-communicable diseases, the damage caused by traffic accidents and violence, and the impacts of climate change,” Dr Barbosa said.

“We need strong, resilient health systems that can perform all the essential public health functions adequately.”

Dr Barbosa, formerly Assistant Director at PAHO, was sworn in at a ceremony held at the Organization of American States (OAS). PAHO is the specialised international health agency for the inter-American system and Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Dr Barbosa, a national of Brazil, succeeds Dr Etienne, of Dominica. 

To address the “significant inequalities between and within countries” and to ensure post-pandemic recovery and preparedness, Dr Barbosa’s tenure will focus on five strategic pillars: End the pandemic with the tools countries have at hand, including surveillance and vaccines; apply the lessons learned from the pandemic to prepare for future health emergencies; guarantee rapid and equitable access to health innovations for all countries in the region; build resilient national health systems based on primary health care; and strengthen PAHO’s capacity to help member states.

“I will work tirelessly,” Barbosa said, “to ensure that PAHO maintains all of its many achievements to date, renewing itself every step of the way, always building networks and working as a bridge for understanding, solidarity and innovation.” 

The Covid-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of universal health to both the public and heads of state like never before, Barbosa said. 

“It is urgent that we make use of this attention to strengthen health systems, address persistent issues and shortcomings, and ensure the right to health of all peoples in our region,” he added.

“One hundred and twenty years ago, our countries proposed an alliance to improve the health of our peoples and face outbreaks and epidemics together,” Dr Barbosa said. 

“The dream of pan-Americanism. The dream that solidarity among the countries of the Americas is a powerful force that can improve the lives of our peoples.

“We stand here today, 120 years later, encouraged by these very dreams, which remain very much alive and continue to inspire us.” 

Dr Etienne said, “As I hand over this office and hand the steering wheel over to my esteemed friend and colleague, Jarbas, I am confident that the future of the organisation will be in good hands as you will bring to your new role exceptional technical expertise, astute policy making skills, together with pragmatism and wisdom from your many years of experience gained in your home country of Brazil as well as internationally.”

Nisia Trindade Lima, Minister of Health of Brazil, said, “Barbosa is a thinker as well as a builder, somebody who transforms ideas into lasting intuitional practices. Throughout his extensive career, he has worn many hats at different levels within the single health system.

“As a public health expert, he always fought to defend the principles of a Brazilian health reform and work towards an inclusive and solidary society that places health as a universal right.”

Also speaking was Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Health and Human Services of the United States, who said, “Created by necessity, hardened by crisis, and maintained by brotherhood, for more than 100 years, PAHO has been tested and has risen to meet every challenge in its path.

“Dr Barbosa, you have the great task of leading this organisation at a particularly challenging time. We must put into practice all that we have learned from Covid-19, while also recognising the next health emergency could be lurking in the shadows ready to emerge at any time.”

Antigua and Barbuda’s Minister of Health Sir Molwyn Joseph was also present at the ceremony.

“Today, Dr Jarbas, you commence the task of continuing the good work of the long line of leaders who have assisted the countries of the Americas over the last 120 years,” Joseph said.

“You now have the opportunity to carve your own path and destiny as you steer us in a post pandemic era with its many ongoing challenges. I have no doubt that your experience, technical knowledge and passion for what public health can offer will allow you to attain your goal to build a better, more equitable world with universal health.”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director of the WHO, added, “You begin your work as regional director at a difficult time – with rising inflation and debt, squeezed budgets, and divisive politics and war. But also, you begin at an important time, as the world emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic, and we seek to jumpstart progress towards the triple billion targets and the sustainable development goals.”

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