Health inequity continues to fuel COVID-19 pandemic and prolongs the efforts to end it

Remarks by Dr Carissa F. Etienne, Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), at U.S. President Biden’s Global COVID-19 Summit, Session II: Save Lives Now, 22 September 2021 – Washington, DC (As prepared for delivery)

President Biden, Excellencies, fellow partners, ladies and gentlemen, it is an honor to be here in this Global COVID-19 Summit and stand in solidarity with you as we seek to end this pandemic. 

The Americas are no stranger to disease outbreaks. In fact, the Pan American Health Organization was founded 120 years ago, in part to bring countries together to address yellow fever, which ravaged our region at the time. 

But this pandemic stands out in both scale and impact. And it has shone a spotlight on a longstanding challenge in our region: inequity. 

The Americas are one of the most unequal regions in the world, and COVID-19 has exploited and exacerbated these differences. 

People living in poverty without necessary infrastructure could not follow the basic public health measures to avoid infection. The many millions who rely on the informal economy lacked the option to stay home. And for people living on the move, in remote areas or in vulnerable conditions – like many of our indigenous communities, Afro-descendant populations and migrants – proper health care was often out of reach. 

This is especially evident in Haiti, where an already weak health system is struggling to care for COVID patients.

To minimize the impact of this pandemic, PAHO has worked hand-in-hand with governments and partners throughout our region to scale up testing, strengthen supply chains and expand oxygen access.

Our Strategic Fund has delivered nearly 33 million COVID tests and over $14M worth of PPE to countries and territories in the Americas. 

Across these efforts, we have learned the value and importance of leveraging our collective resources and working together to save lives. This is true for essential supplies and it’s especially true for vaccines. 

But this is just a first step.

To truly address the health inequity that continues to fuel this pandemic and prolongs our efforts to end it, we must work together to invest in our health systems, so they are resilient and provide quality care for all.

Because there is no path to recovery for any of us while our neighbors remain vulnerable.

The investments we make today, will help us get through this pandemic faster, lay the groundwork to prevent future crises, and fulfill our promise of health for all.

The road to recovery will be paved by the decisions of everyone at this Summit. Let’s work together to make that road a short one.

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