The Brazilian epidemiologist Jarbas Barbosa took office on Tuesday as the new director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) with the promise of strengthening health care in the region and that his body be prepared for possible new epidemics.
One of its objectives, he said in a speech in Washington (where the entity is based), is to draw lessons from the covid-19 pandemic and address existing weaknesses in order to face threats as they arise.
"PAHO is ready to support countries to recover from the negative impact of the pandemic in almost all priority health programs, but it is necessary to go further (…) No health system is going to respond to the needs of the population if you are not constantly concerned with identifying the groups that are being left behind"held.
Barbosa won the position last September with 21 of the 37 votes cast in the fourth round of a process held during the 30th Pan American Sanitary Conference in Washington.
His five-year term, which officially begins on Wednesday, succeeds that of Dominican Carissa Etienne, who has been in charge of the organization since 2012 and who this Tuesday praised Barbosa’s ability to listen and his work in coordinating the supply of covid-19 vaccines for the region.
During the pandemic, Barbosa led PAHO’s activities aimed at reducing its impact on priority health programs. In addition, he chaired the working group on covid vaccination in the region and inaugurated a platform to expand the production of messenger RNA vaccines there as well.
The epidemiologist began his professional career in 1982 at the Department of Health of the State of Pernambuco (Brazil). Between 1997 and 2003 he was director of the National Epidemiology Center (CENEPI) in Brasilia, in 2003 he was appointed Secretary of Sanitary Surveillance and in 2006, Vice Minister.
Among other positions, he also served as Chairman of the PAHO Executive Committee in the 2013-2014 biennium and as Vice President of the WHO Executive Board in 2014-2015. From July 2017 until his appointment as director, he worked as deputy director of the Pan American Sanitary Office.
This Tuesday he showed his commitment to help member countries with the "best tools available"especially in the surveillance of epidemiological trends, and said he was willing to work for the rapid incorporation into these of strategies "innovative"adapted to the reality of each one.
"Health systems must have more capacity to identify barriers to access. We cannot forget that we live in a region with historical inequalities"he pointed out at the swearing-in ceremony, which was attended by the heads of Health from Brazil, the United States, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Chile, El Salvador, Haiti and Jamaica.
Barbosa promised to exercise his leadership with loyalty, discretion and without accepting instructions from governments or authorities outside PAHO or WHO, and estimated that covid-19 must continue to constitute a public health emergency of international importance, because its incidence is still very high. different in the world.
"It has made clear its commitment to health and science"the Brazilian President, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, said of him in the message read on his behalf by his Minister of Health, Nísia Trindade, where the president stressed that Brazil has a renewed drive to return to being "with all certainty the positive force with which always" has performed in the region.
PAHO, founded in 1902, is the American arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), in charge of advising the governments and health institutions of its 35 member states. It has another 4 associate members, 3 participating States and 2 observers (Spain and Portugal).