Q&A with Global Health Leader Mirta Roses Periago: Recognizing the 'Interdependency' of This Century

Article excerpt

In February, Mirta Roses Periago, MD, began her second term as director of the Pan American Health Organization, continuing her stretch as the first woman to helm the world's oldest health institution. During her swearing-in ceremony, Roses said she would work to keep PAHO at the "forefront of the response to the regional and global challenges in public health and, particularly, to serve as an instrument for bringing good health to the most neglected, vulnerable, marginalized and excluded populations."

With an extensive professional history in global public health, including numerous positions within the World Health Organization, Roses was elected as APHA's vice president for Latin America at the Association's 2007 Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. For more information about PAHO's activities, visit www.paho.org.

What are some of the most pressing public health problems that are unique to the region that PAHO works in?

Health is a public and instrumental good for individuals, families and communities. Thus, it should be within the reach of all. However, the region unfortunately continues to be the most unequal in wealth distribution, while simultaneously bearing the burden of cumulative social debt. Therefore, PAHO continues advocating to reduce inequity and social exclusion by renewing and fostering primary health care-based health systems.

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We must also react to the tyranny of averages, since poverty is often concealed by global figures, and our Faces, Voices, and Places Initiative makes the most neglected communities seen and heard to empower them to make the (global Millennium Development Goals) a reality for all.

The region's health needs call for a three-pronged approach. First, we must strengthen the national responsibility and the institutional capacity of governments, as well as international support provided to the priority countries. We must also ensure that the unique situation of the region's middle-income countries remains visibly present on the international agenda to avoid the risk of setbacks, and we must prepare in advance to address the situation of island nations and small countries that must deal with the impact of climate change and with the consequences of the globalization of trade and labor and of its resulting migratory patterns.

How big of a milestone was the 2007 launch of the Health Agenda for the Americas? And how is the agenda already helping to shape public health efforts?

The Health Agenda for the Americas 2008-2017 is the highest-level political instrument for health development in the region of the Americas. For the first time in over 30 years, the countries of the Americas collectively agreed upon a long-term health agenda as their independent political expression.

It is already helping to shape public health efforts, i.e., as a basis for subregional health agendas in the Caribbean, Central America and Latin America, in guiding the plans of international organizations in the health arena and as a reference for key national health planning in countries throughout the region.

The agenda points to sexual and reproductive health as a top priority. How will improving this area of health contribute to improving health for entire populations?

Sexuality and reproduction are fundamental facets of human life and health aspects related to them must be part of a comprehensive approach in health promotion and care. The cost of treating sexual and reproductive diseases and disorders further impoverishes families, disrupts interpersonal dynamics and generates anxiety and depression. (The) sexual and reproductive health agenda aims at averting problems during pregnancy and childbearing and ensuring the highest attainable standard of health for the baby, for the woman, for the family and for the community as a whole, including ensuring healthy aging.

The agenda mentioned that increased urbanization in parts of the Americas is often associated with more people adopting unhealthy lifestyle choices. …