WASHINGTON, USA, Friday September 21, 2012 – A Dominica national will be the new Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) following her election on Wednesday during the 28th Pan American Sanitary Conference.
Dr Clarissa Etienne is the second Caribbean Community (CARICOM) national to attain the post, following Dr George Alleyne of Barbados. She will begin her five-year term on February 1, 2013, succeeding Dr Mirta Roses Periago of Argentina, who has been PAHO Director since 2003.
In an address to the conference, Dr Etienne said she looked forward to working for the countries of the Americas, which have achieved many advances in health and development, but which also face many challenges.
“Our Region is strong,” the director-elect said. “We now see political stability and economic prosperity in the Region at unprecedented levels. At the same time, there are millions of people, some of them in our wealthiest member states that do not have access to the social determinants of health or the health care they desperately need; 74 million living in conditions of extreme poverty.
“This is a reflection of the inequities that afflict many of our member states and our region and present a challenge to us all to strive for social justice, to ensure social inclusion, and to be proactive in addressing the needs of vulnerable and marginalized peoples.”
Dr Etienne spoke of “societies free of inequality, where people have access to healthy social determinants and environments that allow them to live long, dignified, healthy, and productive lives. This includes access to universal health services without fear of being impoverished.”
The attainment of Dr Etienne’s latest post as head of the prestigious WHO body marks the culmination of a long and distinguished service in medicine and public health in Dominica and more recently at PAHO and the WHO.
She was born in Dominica and attended the Convent High School before moving to the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona Campus in Jamaica where she trained as a general practitioner and graduated with an MBBS in 1976.
She began her career in Dominica with the Ministry of Health in 1977 as a medical officer at the Princess Margaret Hospital. A few years later she became involved in the planning and implementation of primary health care, which focused on decentralizing the nation’s health services and bringing medical care to various villages.
Dr Etienne subsequently moved to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where she received a master’s degree in community health in developing countries in 1982.
Back in Dominica, she was appointed medical director at Princess Margaret Hospital in 1986 and served in that capacity until 1989 when she was appointed director of primary health care services and named disaster coordinator for the Ministry of Health and its representative on the National Emergency Preparedness Organization.
In the 1990s she had a thriving private practice and held several key positions in the Ministry of Health, including chief medical officer, designated national epidemiologist, chairman of the National AIDS Committee and coordinator of the National AIDS Programme.
In the latter capacity she was the government’s lead advisor on strategies for the prevention, control and management of HIV/AIDS, and was responsible for implementing programmes in this area as well as mobilizing and managing funds from donor agencies.
Since 2010 Dr Etienne has been Assistant Director General, Health Systems and Services, of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva. From 2003 to 2008 she served as Assistant Director of PAHO, WHO’s Regional Office for the Americas.
PAHO is an international public health agency with almost 110 years of experience in working to improve health and living standards of the 39 countries of the Americas. It serves as the specialized organization for health of the Inter-American System and as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization.