Pan American Health Organization

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Pan American Health Organization
Organización Panamericana de la Salud (Spanish)
Organização Pan-Americana da Saúde (Portuguese)
Formation1902; 121 years ago (1902)
TypeSpecialized agency of the United Nations
HeadquartersWashington, D.C., United States
Pan American Health Organization
Membership35 Member States in the Americas
• Director
Carissa F. Etienne
• Deputy Director
Mary Lou Valdez
• Assistant Director
Jarbas Barbosa
• Director of Administration
Gerald C. Anderson
Establishment2 December 1902 (1902-12-02)

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) in charge of international health cooperation in the Americas. It fosters technical cooperation among member countries to fight communicable and noncommunicable diseases, strengthen health systems, and respond to emergencies and disasters. It has 35 Member States and four Associate Members in the region.[1] Headquartered in Washington, D.C., PAHO is the regional office for the World Health Organization in the Americas, and the health organization of the Inter-American System. It is known in Latin America as the OPS (Spanish: Organización Panamericana de la Salud) or OPAS (Portuguese: Organização Pan-Americana da Saúde).


PAHO has scientific and technical expertise at its headquarters, in its 27 country offices, and its three Pan American centers, all working with the countries of the americas in dealing with priority health issues. The health authorities of PAHO's Member States set PAHO's technical and administrative policies through its governing bodies. The PAHO Member States include all 35 countries in the Americas; Puerto Rico is an associate member. France, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are the participating states, and Portugal and Spain are the observer states.

The Organization's essential mission is to strengthen national and local health systems and improve the health of the peoples of the Americas, in collaboration with Ministries of Health, other government and international agencies, nongovernmental organizations, universities, social security agencies, community groups, and many others.

PAHO promotes universal health coverage and universal access to health and strengthening of health systems based on primary health care strategies. It assists countries in fighting infectious diseases such as malaria, cholera, dengue, HIV and tuberculosis as well as the region's growing epidemic of noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. PAHO engages in technical cooperation with ministries of health and facilitates coordination with other sectors to promote health in all policies. PAHO also promotes the use of research evidence to inform health care decisions and policymaking through the implementation of knowledge translation strategies such as the Evidence-Informed Policy Network (EVIPNet). Through the Elimination Initiative, it targets HIV/AIDS.

In its efforts to improve health, PAHO targets the most vulnerable groups including mothers and children, workers, the poor, the elderly, refugees, and displaced persons. It focuses on issues related to equity for those who lack access to health, and on a Pan-American approach, encouraging countries to work together on common issues and build lasting capacities.

Specific initiatives spearheaded by PAHO include the expanded program on immunization, which played a major role in the elimination of smallpox and polio from the Americas; the Tobacco-Free Americas initiative; the Regional Coalition for Water and Sanitation to Eliminate Cholera in Hispaniola; the Salt Smart Consortium; the Pan American Network for Drug Regulatory Harmonization; and a blood safety initiative that seeks to improve blood safety and efficiency by helping countries reach 100% blood supplies from unpaid voluntary donors.

A major priority for the Americas is cutting infant mortality, and PAHO is mobilizing new political, institutional, and financial resources to prevent an additional 25,000 infant deaths every year through the application of the Integrated Management of Childhood Illness strategy, in which primary health care workers are taught a complete process to evaluate the health status of children brought to a health post or clinic. They learn to recognize signs of disease and evaluate and treat them. They learn to give parents information on how to prevent disease in the home. If they see danger signs indicating the infant could die, they are taught to treat the child immediately or take him or her to a hospital.

Improvement of drinking water supplies, adequate sanitation, and increased access to health care for the poor are still top priorities for PAHO, with a focus on equity. The Organization is intensifying its efforts to have countries know the true state of health of their populations and where the inequalities lie. Program efforts focus on correcting inequality, taking into account decentralization and change of state functions, on showing that health has a role to play in the success of other sectors, and on how attention to health affects positively other aspects of human development. Advocacy in this area is also directed to reducing gender inequity, which reflects in some health problems of women.

The Pan American approach is a part of PAHO history and the spirit of panamericanism continues to stimulate technical cooperation among countries in health. PAHO has helped countries work together toward common goals, and to initiate multi-country health ventures in Central America, the Caribbean, the Andean Region, and the Southern Cone. Experience has shown practical benefits such as the solidarity that helped Central America after hurricane Mitch, and there are numerous other examples. Health collaboration found expression at the highest political level when American heads of state in their Summit in Santiago accepted a health initiative called "Health Technology Linking the Americas".

The countries of Latin America and the Caribbean joined together over 20 years ago to buy vaccines through a revolving fund. These are among the Organization's most notable successes, starting with the eradication of smallpox from the Americas in 1973, a triumph followed five years later by global eradication of the dreaded disease.

A major effort committing the Americas to embark on polio eradication in 1985 succeeded in September 1994, when a distinguished International Commission declared the Americas officially polio-free. The last case of polio in the Americas was identified on August 23, 1991, in a young boy named Luis Fermín Tenorio Cortez, in Junín, Peru. Since then, despite intensive surveillance, no cases of polio have been detected anywhere in the Americas, and the World Health Organization is now working toward the goal of eradicating polio globally. PAHO assists the countries in mobilizing the necessary resources to provide immunization and treatment services for all vaccine-preventable diseases. PAHO is close to accomplishing the goal of eliminating measles from this hemisphere and is pressing on with the introduction of new vaccines that are currently available, such as Haemophilus influenzae B. to reduce meningitis and respiratory infections. PAHO works to reduce the toll of death and illness from diarrheal diseases, including cholera, through case management and oral rehydration therapy to prevent deaths from dehydration, and to provide adequate diagnosis and treatment of acute respiratory infections, thus saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of children each year.

PAHO disseminates scientific and technical information through its publications program, its Internet site, and a network of academic libraries, documentation centers, and local health care libraries.

The Organization provides technical collaboration in a variety of specialized public health fields and organizes emergency preparedness and disaster relief coordination. It supports efforts to strengthen national health systems, develop national health research systems, control malaria, Chagas' disease, urban rabies, leprosy, and other diseases that affect the people of the Americas. PAHO collaborates with governments, other agencies, and private groups to address major nutritional problems including protein-energy malnutrition, and is now working to eliminate iodine and vitamin A deficiencies.

It engages in and facilitates health promotion to help countries deal with health problems typical of development and urbanization, especially non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, accidents, smoking, addiction to drugs and alcohol, and injuries among others. Beyond health promotion, PAHO also addresses health systems and quality of care issues in support of national efforts to respond to the NCD pandemic.

The Organization also executes projects for other United Nations agencies, for international organizations such as the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank, for official development cooperation agencies of various governments, and for philanthropic foundations.

PAHO trains health workers at all levels, through fellowships, courses and seminars, and the strengthening of national training institutions. It leads to the use of advanced communications technologies for information, health promotion, and education, working with journalists in many countries.

The Organization recognizes the role of the private sector in the delivery of services and fosters dialogue and partnerships with the Ministries of Health. In addition to its core budget financed by quota contributions from its Member Governments, PAHO also seeks outside funding to help implement special programs and initiatives in response to vital health needs. Voluntary tax-deductible contributions for PAHO health and education projects in the Americas may be made to the PAHO Foundation.

Dr. Carissa F. Etienne of the Commonwealth of Dominica was elected as the new director of PAHO on January 31, 2013. PAHO's Deputy Director is Dr. Mary Lou Valdez,[2] of the United States, and the Assistant Director is Jarbas Barbosa,[3] from Brazil.


The organization was founded in December 1902. It was originally called the Pan-American Sanitary Bureau.[4]: 125  In 1949, PAHO and WHO signed an agreement making PAHO the American Regional Office (AMRO) of WHO. Today the usual phrasing is "Regional Office for the Americas". The first hemisphere-wide effort to eradicate smallpox was made in 1950 by the PAHO.[5] The campaign was successful in eliminating smallpox from all countries of the Americas except Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador.[6]

Headquarters building[edit]

Pan American Health Organization building, Washington, DC
Stage of the Pan-American Health Organization building Auditorium in Washington, DC

In March 1960, President Eisenhower signed into law a bill passed by the U.S. Congress[7] authorizing the U.S. government to purchase and donate a lot for the PAHO headquarters in Washington, D.C. After a competitive bid, in October 1961,[8] the PAHO declared Uruguayan architect Román Fresnedo Siri the winner of its competition. At the ceremony announcing him as a winner, the organization's Director Abraham Horwitz said "this beautiful building will become a monument to the ideal of better health for the peoples of the Americas." He described the winning design as one of "both grace and utility", and said, "it reflects the high ideals of the Pan-American spirit in an age when we must move ahead to build a better future for our peoples."[9]

The building was designed in a modernist style.[10] Constructed in 1965, the exterior features 29 round bronze seals of the founding nations of the Pan American Health Organization, designed by American sculptor Michael Lantz.[10] In 1993 the seals were surveyed by the Smithsonian Institution's Save Outdoor Sculpture! program and were described as needing conservation treatment.[11]

Constructed of reinforced concrete over a steel frame with an exterior of glass and marble, the building is one of Washington's most recognized examples of midcentury modern architecture.[citation needed] The building is divided into two distinct volumes: a gracefully curved ten-story building that hosts the organization's main offices, and an adjoining four-story cylindrical annex that serves as the congress hall for formal assemblies of the PAHO member state delegates, as well as other meetings and events. It is surrounded by George Washington University to the north and east, the Columbia Plaza office/residential complex to the west, and the State Department to the south across the E street expressway underpass.

List of directors-general[edit]

Source: Official website[12]

Name Years of Tenure
United States Walter Wyman 1902–1911
United States Rupert Blue 1912–1920
United States Hugh Smith Cumming 1920–1947
United States Fred Lowe Soper 1947–1959
Chile Abraham Horwitz 1959–1975
Mexico Héctor Acuña Monteverde 1975–1983
Brazil Carlyle Guerra de Macedo 1983–1995
Barbados George Alleyne 1995–2003
Argentina Mirta Roses Periago 2003–2013
Dominica Carissa Etienne[13] 2013–2023
Brazil Jarbas Barbosa[13] 2023–

Public Health Heroes of the Americas[edit]

PAHO recognizes individuals as "Public Health Heroes" to honour noteworthy contributions to public health in the Americas.[14] On the occasion of its 100th anniversary in 2002, PAHO named 12 individuals to the list.[15] The award is considered PAHO's highest honour.[16][17]

List of honourees, by year[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Who We Are - PAHO/WHO | Pan American Health Organization". Retrieved 2023-02-15.
  2. ^ PAHO (4 February 2020). "Mary Lou Valdez appointed as PAHO/WHO Deputy Director". Retrieved 19 May 2020.
  3. ^[dead link]
  4. ^ Markel, Howard (January 7, 2014). "Worldly approaches to global health: 1851 to the present" (PDF). Public Health. 128 (2): 124–8. doi:10.1016/j.puhe.2013.08.004. PMID 24412079. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 18, 2016. Retrieved April 5, 2016.
  5. ^ Rodrigues BA (1975). "Smallpox eradication in the Americas". Bulletin of the Pan American Health Organization. 9 (1): 53–68. PMID 167890.
  6. ^ Orenstein WA, Plotkin SA (1999). Vaccines (e–book). Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Co. ISBN 978-0-7216-7443-8.
  7. ^ Authorized by Public Law 86-395, March 28, 1960; funding subsequently appropriated by Public Law 86-678, August 31, 1960.
  8. ^ Quadrennial Report of the PAHO Director, July 1962, p. 78.
  9. ^ From the PAHO press release commemorating the 50th anniversary of the building, September 28, 2015.
  10. ^ a b PAHO (15 September 2015). "Fifty years after its opening, PAHO's iconic modernist headquarters building is honored". PAHO. Retrieved 9 December 2015.
  11. ^ Smithsonian Institution (1993). "The Nations of the Pan American Health Association, (sculpture)". Save Outdoor Sculpture, District of Columbia survey. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 9 October 2011.
  12. ^ "PAHO's Former Directors". PAHO. Retrieved 28 September 2022.
  13. ^ a b "Dr. Jarbas Barbosa da Silva Jr. of Brazil is Elected PAHO Director". PAHO. 28 September 2022.
  14. ^ "PAHO Public Health Heroes". PAHO/WHO. Retrieved 2020-01-04.
  15. ^ a b Jordán, José (2002). "Nada es más importante que un niño". Revista Panamericana de Salud Pública. 12 (2): 75–78. doi:10.1590/s1020-49892002000800001. ISSN 1020-4989. PMID 12243692.
  16. ^ a b "Presidente Vázquez de Uruguay es reconocido por la OPS". Voz de América (in Spanish). Retrieved 2020-01-04.
  17. ^ a b "Public Health Hero: Dr. María Isabel Rodríguez". PAHO/WHO. Retrieved 2020-01-03.
  18. ^ Williams, Kenneth (2018-05-07). "Bahamian Doctor Named Public Health Hero by PAHO". The St Kitts Nevis Observer. Retrieved 2020-01-03.
  19. ^ "The Passing of Dr. Ciro de Quadros". BORGEN. 2014-06-11. Retrieved 2020-01-03.
  20. ^ PERÚ, Empresa Peruana de Servicios Editoriales S. A. EDITORA. "Fallece exministro de Salud David Tejada de Rivero". (in Spanish). Retrieved 2020-01-03.
  21. ^ "One of PAHO's Public Health Heroes Killed in Haiti". PAHO/WHO. 13 January 2010. Retrieved 2020-01-04.
  22. ^ Watts, Geoff (2014). "Jacinto Convit Garcia". The Lancet. 383 (9935): 2120. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(14)61021-7. PMID 24959642. S2CID 27139120.
  23. ^ "Venezuelan 'hero' in fight against leprosy dies". Washington Examiner. 2014-05-12. Retrieved 2020-01-23.
  24. ^ "Mirna Cunningham, presidenta de foro indígena ONU | La Gente | Radio La Primerísima". Retrieved 2020-02-01.
  25. ^ "Dr. José Roberto Ferreira honored by PAHO as Public Health Hero of the Americas". Pan American Health Organization. 2019. Retrieved 2020-02-01.
  26. ^ Tulchinsky, Theodore H. (2018-03-12). Case studies in public health. San Diego, CA. p. 524. ISBN 978-0-12-804586-2. OCLC 1028747260.
  27. ^ "Donald "D.A." Henderson, epidemiologist who led WHO smallpox eradication efforts, dies at age 87". Pan American Health Organization. 2016-08-22. Retrieved 2020-02-01.
  28. ^ Mohs, Edgar (2002). "Un mundo posible". Revista Panamericana de Salud Pública. 11 (2): 69–71. doi:10.1590/S1020-49892002000200001. ISSN 1020-4989. PMID 11939116.
  29. ^ "Elsa Moreno, una heroína de la salud". La Nación (in Spanish). 2002-12-02. Retrieved 2020-01-03.
  30. ^ "Ruth Rice Puffer: Highlights of a rewarding life". Pan American Journal of Public Health. 12 (5): 297–300. 2002. doi:10.1590/s1020-49892002001100001. ISSN 1020-4989. PMID 12587220.
  31. ^ Thompson, Eulalee (2002-02-03). "Professor Kenneth Standard PAHO's public health hero". Jamaica Gleaner. Retrieved 2020-01-23.

External links[edit]