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Appointment of the Regional Director for the Americas
Dr. Mirta Roses Periago

Acceptance Speech

122nd WHO Executive Board session
24 January, 2008.

Mr. Chairman
Regional Directors
Hon. Ministers, Heads of Delegation, Ambassadors, Delegates
Colleagues at WHO Headquarters

I am deeply grateful to the members of the Executive Board who have reviewed and approved my designation as the World Health Organization's Regional Director for the Americas. Once again, I reaffirm my commitment to the well-being of the peoples of the Region and to the responsibilities entrusted to me by the Ministers of Health.

I accept this very high honor with humility, ever mindful of the values and principles that have guided, and will continue to guide, all of my actions in support of WHO policies, within the context of the priorities and needs of the countries of the Americas, served by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)

Throughout a century of fruitful life, PAHO has played a key role in improving the health of all the peoples of the Region. I am therefore proud to continue to head this competent, committed and supportive work team, which has contributed to these enormous achievements and is prepared to tackle the new public health challenges of today.

The global nature of the major health threats is increasingly clearer. No country or region, regardless of its size, development level, or geographical location, can face them alone. The ever more visible interdependent characteristic of this new century has closed the gap between local and global, individual and collective issues. Only if we coordinate our actions and create networks on the basis of our multiple efforts can we address the risks to which the most vulnerable groups are exposed.

Preparing the countries of the Region to meet these global challenges is thus one of PAHO's main objectives. Adhering to the principles of solidarity and mutual cooperation, the Organization promotes productive investment to improve health conditions in the Americas. As we universally raise health levels, not only at the national and regional level but at the global level as well, we will eliminate inequities and free up resources to respond to new emerging challenges, such as climate change, aging, and migration.

The six key objectives of the WHO agenda: promoting development; fostering health security; strengthening health systems; harnessing research, information, and evidence; enhancing partnerships; and improving performance, are also fundamental goals of our work in the Region. The synergy between our regional priorities and the global priorities is certainly testimony to the major successes of WHO during its 60 years of arduous effort on behalf of public health on this planet. The honors paid to it by the peoples of the world on this crucial anniversary are well-deserved.

Health is such a valuable good that it must be within the reach of all. This has been the motto of WHO for 60 years and of PAHO since its inception. Hence, the profound symbolism that this year is also marking the 30th anniversary of the International Conference of Alma-Ata, which launched the primary care strategy aimed at achieving the generous and ambitious goal of health for all. We are well aware of the difficulties encountered in making this a reality, largely due to obstacles in corporate structures that perpetuate inequality and poverty; however, it is increasingly clear that that noble goal is essential, as reflected in the importance given to health for achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

PAHO has repeatedly affirmed its commitment to the tireless fight against inequity and social exclusion. Thus, it has renewed and fostered the concept of primary health care to ensure that it becomes a priority in public policy in all the Member States.

We are proud of the success of the International Conference on Health for Development: Rights, Facts, and Realities, organized by the Government and Ministry of Health of Argentina, WHO, and other partners. The declaration of over 60 countries at the "Buenos Aires 30/15" meeting, stating their commitment to work to eliminate inequalities in access to health and in the quality of those services, ensure sufficient financing for the interventions and benefits that each country deems necessary, and recognize the active role and stewardship function of the State, is extremely important and encouraging. The subsequent meetings in China, Thailand, and Kazakhstan will help to consolidate and continue these advances in the development of health systems based on primary health care. This should be a fundamental part of any efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and greater social equity, both globally and in our Region of the Americas.

These actions are intimately linked with the common need and objective of strengthening health systems, where challenges connected with human resources for health are particularly evident. This is a continually evolving effort that demands attention and significant support from all the countries, regardless of their stage of development. Thus, it is essential to promote and support efforts that have been successful to prevent a deterioration in the levels achieved and consolidate progress, and also to facilitate close intra- and interregional cooperation that will allow us to take advantage of the lessons learned and best practices, as we have seen with the cooperation between our Region and AFRO.

There is a great opportunity for solidarity and cooperation within WHO's extensive family. PAHO is collaborating in global efforts to eliminate polio. Vaccination Week in the Americas, originally conceived as a subregional initiative, has expanded and flowered and is entering its fifth year; it is now being extended to Europe, and other Regions will continue to be added until we have a World Vaccination Week. The world united for health protection!

As with immunization, other global challenges offer fertile ground for mutual support and solidarity to promote public health. This was the main objective of the 3x5 Initiative on HIV/AIDS, which we must continue to strengthen. The fact that the XVII International Conference on AIDS is scheduled to be held in Mexico City therefore fills us with optimism. This is the first time that the International Conference is being organized in Latin America and the Caribbean on this issue, and the theme "Universal Action Now!" is a call to redouble our common efforts to fight this pandemic.

I am fortunate to be able to dream of new milestones in public health, not only with the backing of Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO in general, and my fellow regional directors, but with the support and collaboration of the extraordinary team of PAHO. The experience, commitment, abilities, talent, and public service ethic of its entire staff have been and will continue to be the essential life force for meeting public health challenges at the dawn of the 21st century.

I am confident that, with the support of the Member States and the dedication of health workers, I can meet the expectations of the peoples of the Americas. We must achieve the Millennium Development Goals for the families and communities that today are invisible. To do so, we must make their faces visible, listen to their voices, and go to where they live, suffer, and dream of a better future for their children. I am fully confident that together, we will continue to move forward and collaborate with other countries and regions to successfully tackle global health challenges and raise the levels of well-being, peace, and development, as the most neglected and vulnerable populations expect, demand, and deserve.

Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization
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