PAHO director warns that the Caribbean is not on track to meet global maternal health and mortality targets

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Dr. Carissa Etienne

NEW YORK, NY – The director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, has warned that the Americas, including the Caribbean, are not on track to meet global targets on maternal health and mortality.

Speaking at a high-level event on the sidelines of the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Debate, Dr. Etienne highlighted “the aggravating effect of COVID-19 on the health of women, children and adolescents in the region, which have placed these groups at greater risk and threaten to reverse gains made in the past decades.

“We must act now to protect the future of our region,” said the Dominican-born PAHO director in a video message to the 11th Accountability Breakfast, organized by the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH).

“Widespread disruptions to maternal and newborn care left expectant mothers and their babies without support during one of the most critical periods of a woman’s life and a baby’s growth.”

Dr. Etienne said young women were vulnerable, as “disruptions to family planning services fuelled one of the largest increases in teenage pregnancy we’ve seen in more than a decade.”

PAHO said the Americas have the second highest adolescent pregnancy rate globally.

The “Tackling Conflict, Climate Change, and COVID-19: A Triple Threat to Women, Children, and Adolescents in Latin America and the Caribbean” event brought together high-level speakers to review the impact of current crises and the way forward to address these.

Dr. Etienne also warned that gender-based violence is rising in the Americas and that school interruption triggered “the worst educational crisis we have ever seen,” as “our kids missed more school days than children in any other region.

“Children and teens across our region are at risk of becoming the generation that missed out on the health, education, and economic opportunities needed to reach their fullest potential,” she cautioned.

Looking forward, the PAHO director said that Latin America and the Caribbean have made remarkable progress in recent decades to reduce childhood mortality and expand access to health services and urged leaders to “lean on these past experiences and refocus our efforts as we rebuild from this pandemic.”

This includes strengthening efforts to restore children’s annual check-ups and routine vaccinations from preventable diseases like polio, measles, and rubella, which have lagged during the pandemic.

Dr. Etienne also called for comprehensive, evidence-based programs to empower schools, communities, and families to care for young people so that they can thrive and urged countries to “bring women, children, and adolescents to the table and work with them to shape the interventions that are intended to reach them.”

Dr. Etienne also participated in a panel alongside Kersti Kaljulaid, UN Secretary-General’s Global Advocate for Every Woman, Every Child, and former president of Estonia, and Martin Chungong, Secretary-General, Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).

Participants also included Helen Clark, PMNCH Board Chair and New Zealand prime minister, Jamaica’s Health Minister Dr. Christopher Tufton, and Rossana Briceno, chair of the Spouses of CARICOM Leaders Action Network.

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