New PAHO Director Will Promote Universal Health Coverage

Washington, D.C., 31 January 2013 – Dr. Carissa F. Etienne took office today as the new Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), pledging to work in close partnership with PAHO member countries to extend the benefits of health progress to all people in the Americas. Dr. Etienne’s highest priority will be accelerating progress toward universal access to quality health care.

“Of the many opportunities and challenges this Organization and our Member States face, one goal stands atop all the others. It is providing universal access to health care across the Americas,” she said. “No other single achievement would contribute more to ensuring a long, dignified and productive life.”

Dr. Etienne, formerly Assistant Director-General at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, was sworn in as the 10th Director of PAHO. At 110 years, PAHO is the world’s oldest international health agency and serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of WHO. She succeeds Dr. Mirta Roses Periago, of Argentina, who served 10 years as Director.

Dr. Etienne noted the impressive health progress in the Americas, with major gains in life expectancy, declining infant mortality, high rates of immunization, improved nutrition, expanded access to health care and health education, and newly available medicines and health technologies. However, she said progress has not been experienced equally, especially among the poor and most vulnerable populations.

“These conditions converge to create a unique moment for health in the Americas. We have a powerful potential to create positive change in health. Just as important, health can be a driving force for change. Improved health and access to health care will translate into stronger economies, more cohesive societies, and in nations better able to integrate and compete in the global world,” she said.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said in a video message from Geneva, “I have lost my Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Services, but the Pan American Health Organization has gained an experienced leader.”

Outgoing Director Dr. Roses pledged her “unlimited collaboration” with PAHO’s new Director.

“My successor is recognized for her capability and commitment to regional public health,” said Dr. Roses. “Under her leadership, with the talent and commitment of this organization’s work teams and the support of its Member States, PAHO will continue to contribute decisively to the health of the peoples of the Americas.”

Special guests attending the ceremony included U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Prime Minister of Dominica Roosevelt Skerrit, Minister of Health of Grenada Ann Peters, and Assistant Secretary-General of the Organization of American States Albert Ramdin.

Secretary Sebelius praised PAHO’s regional public health leadership under outgoing Director Mirta Roses and said the United States looks forward to working with “another woman with great experience and a deep commitment to global health.”

“It’s only by working together that we can reach our full capacity to develop life-saving vaccines, address the needs of vulnerable and marginalized populations, and conduct the groundbreaking research that will shape the future of public health,” said Secretary Sebelius. “And PAHO embodies that spirit of cooperative action.”

Dr. Etienne previously served as PAHO’s Assistant Director in 2003-2008, in charge of its core technical cooperation programs in Health Systems and Services, Technology and Health Services Delivery, Health Surveillance and Disease Management, Family and Community Health, and Sustainable Development and Environmental Health.

In her native Dominica, she served as Coordinator of the National AIDS Program, Disaster Coordinator for the Ministry of Health, Chair of the National Advisory Council for HIV/AIDS, and Director of Primary Health Care Services, among other posts. She holds degrees in medicine and surgery from the University of the West Indies as well as a master’s in community health in developing countries from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

PAHO works with its member countries to improve the health and the quality of life of all people in the Americas. In addition to serving as the Regional Office for the Americas of WHO, PAHO is the specialized health agency of the Inter-American System.

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