WASHINGTON, United States, Friday September 29, 2017 – Dominican-born Dr Carissa Etienne has been re-elected for a second five-year term as Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) by the member states of the organization.
Ministers of health meeting at the 29th Pan American Sanitary Conference voted unanimously to re-elect her. Her candidacy, which was not contested, was submitted by the government of her native country.
She will assume her second term as Director of the Pan American Sanitary Bureau, PAHO’s Secretariat, on February 1, 2018.
In her acceptance speech, Dr Etienne cited her “commitment to deliver to all of our peoples, from all walks of society, a long and productive life, with quality care into our senior years; access to quality health services without fear of impoverishment; access to medicines and vaccines that we can afford, including effective antibiotics; freedom from preventable diseases, with reduced exposure to disease vectors”.
She said access to sexual and reproductive health services; to healthy, nutritious food; and to clean water and adequate sanitation were important, along with safe refuge and adequate health care in the face of disasters and health emergencies.
“Action by the health sector alone will not be sufficient to achieve our objectives,” Dr Etienne said. “This is why, when I visit your countries, I meet with heads of state and officials from across other sectors. Looking beyond government, however, I am convinced that we must mobilize our partners in academia, civil society and the private sector to improve health.”
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he had seen Dr Etienne’s leadership in dealing with Zika, hurricanes and emergencies and how swiftly she reacts.
During Etienne’s first term, the countries of the Americas achieved several important health milestones with PAHO’s support. These included the elimination of rubella and congenital rubella syndrome in 2015 and the elimination of measles in 2016. Countries also advanced in the elimination of neglected diseases including trachoma, Chagas disease, and onchocerciasis (river blindness) and the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis. PAHO Member States also approved a regional strategy to achieve universal health, becoming the first WHO region to do so.
Under Etienne’s leadership, PAHO has supported Member States in coping with major epidemics, including Zika, chikungunya and yellow fever, as well as disasters that have ranged from hurricanes and catastrophic flooding to earthquakes and droughts.
The former Chief Medical Officer in Dominica began her first five-year term as PAHO Director on February 1, 2013, after being elected in September the previous year. Previously, from 2008 until 2012, she had served as assistant director-general for health systems and services at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.
Prior to that post in Geneva, she was assistant director of PAHO from 2003 to 2008, in charge of five technical areas: Health Systems and Services; Technology, Health Care and Research; Health Surveillance and Disease Management; Family and Community Health; and Sustainable Development and Environmental Health.
During her tenures at WHO and PAHO, Dr Etienne has led efforts to promote universal health coverage and renew primary health care to strengthen health systems to be more integrated and to function better. She has also spearheaded policy directions for reducing health inequalities and advancing health for all through universal coverage, people-centered care, the integration of health into broader public policies, and inclusive and participatory health leadership.
Dr Etienne has been heavily involved in the struggle to help countries reduce the growing burden of noncommunicable diseases through efforts to combat obesity and curb the tobacco epidemic. She has also supported expansion of immunization programs in the Americas, and earlier this month accepted the Measles and Rubella Initiative Champion Award for PAHO’s work to eliminate measles and rubella from the Americas.