The Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, congratulated Prime Minister Dean Barrow of Belize Monday for his country’s success in promoting immunization and dramatically reducing the burden of malaria.
“Thanks to high rates of vaccination, Belize has been able to eliminate measles, rubella and congenital rubella syndrome, as has the rest of the region—the first in the world to achieve this,” Etienne told Barrow after visiting Belize’s National Vaccines Storage Facility, which was built with PAHO support.
Etienne also noted that investment in health in Belize has risen to 5.4% of GDP, and that the country has made impressive progress toward the elimination of malaria. Belize is currently in the pre-elimination phase, having reduced the number of malaria cases by 95% between 2007 and 2012, from 845 to 37 in five years. In 2016, only five cases of malaria were reported.
Etienne, who also serves as Regional Director for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO), offered PAHO’s support for new health challenges facing Belize and other countries of the Region. These include noncommunicable diseases (NDCs)—such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory disease—which are the country’s leading causes of death, accounting for 4 of every 10 deaths.
“Health health is everybody’s business,” said Etienne, noting that the health sector by itself cannot reduce the key NCD risk factors: tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, physical inactivity and poor diet. “We need a multisectoral response,” she said. Earlier in the day, she met with government officials from other sectors to promote a holistic approach to address the many social factors beyond health that have a major impact on people’s health and well-being.
Barrow assured Etienne that “health will continue to be a priority” for his government and that “health and education are the two most important pillars of development in Belize.”
Other subjects discussed during Etienne’s meeting with Barrow included progress toward the elimination of mother to child transmission of HIV and congenital syphilis, efforts to strengthen Belize’s health system to advance toward universal access and universal coverage as well as tobacco regulation, taxes on sugary beverages, and food labeling to warn consumers about high levels of salt, sugar, and fats in processed foods.
Also participating in the meeting was Minister of Health Pablo Marin; Angel Campos, Minister of State in the Ministry of Health with emphasis on primary health care and national health insurance (NHI); PAHO Chief of Staff Merle Lewis; and PAHO/WHO Representative in Belize Luis Roberto Escoto.