Health In The Americas Is Improving, PAHO Report Says

September 21, 1998

WASHINGTON, Sept. 21, 1998--The health of people in the Americas is improving, thanks to progress in the fight against infectious disease, increased access to clean drinking water, and declines in the death rates among infants and young children, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) reports.

However, the advances are not shared equally by all populations, and governments in the region must make health care equity a priority as they reform their health systems, PAHO says.

In its new report Health in the Americas, released today, PAHO finds improvements in health on many fronts. Infant mortality in the region as a whole is down to a rate of 27 per 1,000 live births, and some individual countries have cut their infant mortality rates to half of what they were 40 years ago.

Life expectancy in Latin America and the Caribbean is also up to 71.1 years, from 68.7 years in the early 1980s, and premature deaths overall are down, PAHO reports. This is largely due to the drop in infant and early childhood mortality.

A number of countries in the region have also made significant progress in bringing down the number of deaths by violence and accidental deaths.

Polio has been eradicated in the Hemisphere, and other infectious diseases such as measles and Chagas' disease are being brought under control. PAHO also reports tremendous progress in the past decade in ensuring access to treated drinking water -- about 78 percent of the region's population get water through easily accessible means and 70 percent receive treated water. Wastewater disposal remains a problem, however, with only 69 percent of the population receiving coverage.

The news is not all good on the infectious diseases front -- tuberculosis and cholera have re-emerged after long absences, and AIDS is known to have killed 511,722 people in the region since 1986. Half of the world's reported 1.6 million cases of AIDS are in the Americas, and PAHO warns that the actual number of cases of HIV infections in the region could be twice as high as the currently reported 898,055.

Governments in the region, facing political, economic and demographic changes, are looking at new models for health care. Nearly all governments have made eliminating inequities in health care quality and access their priority and are emphasizing disease prevention, cure and rehabilitation; coordination of health care programs; intersectoral approaches; and social participation.
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The Pan American Health Organization is an international public health agency whose mission is to promote good health and improve sanitary living conditions among the people of the Western Hemisphere, targeting the most vulnerable groups including mothers and children, workers, the poor, the elderly, and refugees and displaced persons. PAHO is composed of 38 member governments and serves as the regional representative of the World Health Organization.

For Further Information Contact:
Daniel Epstein, tel (202) 974-3459, fax (202) 974-3143, Office of Public Information, PAHO.
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Pan American Health Organization

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