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Secretary Leavitt Welcomes Health Ministers at PAHO Directing Council Opening

Washington, D.C., September 25, 2006 (PAHO)—U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt today welcomed health ministers from throughout the Americas at the opening of the Pan American Health Organization's (PAHO) 47th Directing Council, an annual health summit to discuss crucial public health issues.

Noting that "Health speaks in a universal language of care, it touches people and has a profound impact on them and touches their spirit," Leavitt said he was deeply impressed on a recent visit to Panama by the motivation of students to work in health, in areas where needs are significant. "Early detection is one of the best defenses against emerging diseases, and you have my commitment to work together to improve health, with compassion and hope," he added.

The World Health Organization's acting Director-General, Dr. Anders Nordstrom, told ministers that the recent G-8 meeting "showed that the level of commitment to health by world leaders has never been greater," but there are still challenges to be met, especially for HIV/AIDS. "We need the 3 ‘M's: Money, medicine and a motivated health work force," he added. Nordstrom also said that WHO's work with the World Bank on malaria and to broaden health strategies and scale up health services is going very well, noting that while "There is no question that there is a need for reform of the UN system, especially at the country level, two aspects are functioning well: HIV/AIDS, and the collaboration of UNFPA, UNICEF and WHO."

Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, acting commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, congratulated the health ministers "on your great accomplishments," noting that disease is the enemy of all mankind and that ""Our quest to eradicate and prevent disease must bond and bind us together. We can unite to eradicate our common enemy." He said the FDA's recent approval of a vaccine against Human Papilloma Virus "has the potential to eradicate this horrible disease from the face of the earth, and today we have the opportunity to build bridges between science and technology" to solve health problems. "The United States, through HHS and the FDA, are honored to join you in the quest to create a health world," he said.

PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses welcomed the ministers, who elected Guyana's Minister of Health Dr. Leslie Ramsammy as president of the 47th Directing Council, replacing Uruguay's Health Minister, Dr. Maria Julia Muñoz. Dr. Roses outlined some of the challenges and events of the last year, including several natural disasters, a tragedy in Nicaragua where massive numbers of people were affected by adulterated alcohol, and preparations for a possible influenza pandemic.

Organization of American States Secretary General Dr. José Miguel Insulza spoke to the delegates about the importance of alliances to strengthen public health work, noting that health policies play a central role in seeking consensus on health to reduce inequities.

Panama's First Lady, Sra. Vivian Fernández de Torrijos, spoke on "Disability: Prevention and Rehabilitation in the Context of the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health and Other Related Rights," noting that disabilities affect 60 million people in the Americas as well as their families. She said people with disabilities must be treated with respect and accorded their full rights, and that a solid alliance between the government and civil society is needed in each country to assure the implementation and financing of public policies for integrated care for the disabled and their families.

On Tuesday, delegates are scheduled to discuss the PAHO annual report, hear an update on the process of institutional strengthening of the Bureau, and discuss the Commission on Social Determinants of Health and the development of a new Health Agenda for the Americas. A briefing is also scheduled on disease control priorities by Dr. George Alleyne, former Director of PAHO and one of the editors of the Disease Control Priorities Project of the World Bank.

The agenda and all the documents for the Directing Council can be found on this page.

PAHO, established in 1902, works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and living standards of their peoples. It is also the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization.

For more information please contact , PAHO, Public Information, 202-974-3459.