FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Public Health Challenges in Latin America and the Caribbean

The dramatic health situation in Venezuela, where the national health system has all but collapsed, invites an assessment on how Latin America and the Caribbean are doing regarding the health status of the population. While in the last decades, Latin America and the Caribbean have experienced measurable gains in several health indicators such as life expectancy, infant survival, and prevalence of infectious diseases, the Venezuelan people’s health status has deteriorated considerably.

Most countries in these regions, however, still face daunting challenges due to sprawling urbanization, environmental problems, and increasing levels of obesity that affect all ages, but particularly children. In the Caribbean, for example, obesity has increased by almost 400 percent in the last two decades, affecting also the infant population.

Prevalence of HIV/AIDS, malaria, dengue, tobacco and substance abuse, chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs), and physical and mental disabilities continue to exact a heavy toll in most countries.80% of NCDs deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. Although the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the adult population of Central and South America has stabilized somewhat at 0.6 percent, the Caribbean, with an HIV infection rate of more than two percent, is the second most heavily infected area in the world after sub-Saharan Africa.

With little change in maternal mortality rates during the last decade, the gap in this indicator between Latin American and Caribbean countries, on one hand, and the United States and Canada, on the other, is still substantial. The risk of dying during pregnancy, childbirth and post labor is 50 times greater in developing countries than in Canada and the U.S.

Infant mortality, meanwhile, has declined gradually in most countries in the region due to better nutrition and effective public health and sanitation policies. Latin America is now leading the world in terms of decreasing infant mortality rates, which have declined from 43.5 percent per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 14.9 in 2017, according to the UN Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation.

Latin American and Caribbean countries, however, still face problems associated with low average income, volatile economic national growth, increasing wealth concentration, and extreme poverty – all manifestations of social and economic disparities.

It is still necessary to increase investment in infrastructure and in basic equipment and supplies, to increase coverage and access to proper health care, to improve the distribution of basic drugs, to make widely available safe blood supplies, and to improve epidemiological surveillance. It is also important to address issues, such as violence, that provoke an increasing number of victims and demand not only a political but a public health approach to be solved.

In many countries, violence against women has reached epidemic proportions. Homicides of women by their partners (called “femicides”) take thousands of lives in Mexico every year. According to the National Statistics Institute (INEGI) An average of nine women are murdered every day. The Mexican city of Juárez has been called “the capital of murdered women in the world.”

This is a crucial time to continue implementing a health-promotion model that addresses the social determinants of health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the social determinants of health are the conditions in which we live, learn, work, and play. These conditions include a broad range of socioeconomic and environmental factors, such as air and water quality, the quality of the built environment, opportunities for employment, income, early childhood development and education, access to healthy foods, health insurance coverage and access to health care services, safety from crime and violence, and public and private policies and programs that prioritize individual and community health in all actions

In this regard, it is critical to adopt new approaches of social protection to reduce the exclusion of wide sectors of the population, particularly the poor and the old, who in many cases are not adequately covered by insurance programs.

In addition, stronger alliances must be forged between the public health sector and the education, agriculture, labor, housing, and water and sanitation sectors. Effective actions aimed at the more disadvantaged and vulnerable sectors of society can be planned, coordinated, and put into effect.

At the same time, it is important to accelerate the creation of institutional networks and to improve the exchange of health information among countries. These actions will reduce the health, social and economic burden caused by disease, and translate into a better quality of life for the populations of Latin America and the Caribbean.

César Chelala is an international public health consultant and writer. He has carried out health-related missions in over 50 countries worldwide. He is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award, and two national journalism awards from Argentina.

More articles by:

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
December 13, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
The FBI: Another Worry in the National Security State
Rob Urie
Establishment Politics are for the Rich
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: That’s Neoliberalism for You
Paul Street
Midnight Ramble: A Fascist Rally in Hershey, Pennsylvania
Joan Roelofs
The Science of Lethality
Joyce Nelson
Buttigieg and McKinsey
Joseph Natoli
Equally Determined: To Impeach/To Support
Charles Pierson
The National Defense Authorization Act Perpetuates the Destruction of Yemen
REZA FIYOUZAT
An Outrageous Proposal: Peace Boats to Iran
Lee Hall
Donald Trump Jr., Mongolian Sheep Killer
Andrew Levine
A Plague on Both Their Houses, Plus a Dozen Poxes on Trump’s
David Rosen
Mortality Rising: Trump and the Death of the “American Dream”
Dave Lindorff
The Perils of Embedded Journalism: ‘Afghan Papers’ Wouldn’t Be Needed If We Had a Real Independent News Media
Brian Cloughley
Human Rights and Humbug in Washington
Stephen Leas
Hungry for a Livable Planet: Why I Went On Hunger Strike and Occupied Pelosi’s Office
Saad Hafiz
Pakistan Must Face Its Past
Lawrence Davidson
Deteriorating Climates: Home and Abroad
Cal Winslow
The End of the Era: Nineteen Nineteen
Louis Proyect
If Time Magazine Celebrates Greta Thunberg, Why Should We?
Thomas Drake
Kafka Down Under: the Threat to Whistleblowers and Press Freedom in Australia
Thomas Knapp
JEDI Mind Tricks: Amazon Versus the Pentagon and Trump
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s War on the Poor
Michael Welton
Seeing the World Without Shadows: the Enlightenment Dream
Ron Jacobs
The Wind That Shook the Barley: the Politics of the IRA
Rivera Sun
Beyond Changing Light Bulbs: 21 Ways You Can Stop the Climate Crisis
Binoy Kampmark
The Bloomberg Factor: Authoritarianism, Money and US Presidential Politics
Nick Pemberton
Ideology Shall Have No Resurrection
Rev. Susan K. Williams Smith
What Trump and the GOP Learned From Obama
Ramzy Baroud
‘Elected by Donors’: the University of Cape Town Fails Palestine, Embraces Israel
Cesar Chelala
Unsuccessful U.S. Policy on Cuba Should End
Harry Blain
The Conservatism of Impeachment
Norman Solomon
Will the Democratic Presidential Nomination Be Bought?
Howard Lisnoff
The One Thing That US Leaders Seem to Do Well is Lie
Jeff Cohen
Warren vs. Buttigieg Clash Offers Contrast with Sanders’ Consistency
Mel Gurtov
The Afghanistan Pentagon Papers
Gaither Stewart
Landslide … to Totalitarianism
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
How Blaming Nader in 2000 Paved the Way for Today’s Neo-Fascism
Steve Early
In Re-Run Election: LA Times Journalist Wins Presidency of NewsGuild 
David Swanson
If You’re Not Busy Plotting Nonviolent Revolution for Peace and Climate, You’re Busy Dying
Nicky Reid
Sorry Lefties, Your Impeachment is Bullshit
John Kendall Hawkins
The Terror Report You Weren’t Meant to See
Susan Block
Krampus Trumpus Rumpus
Martin Billheimer
Knight Crawlers
David Yearsley
Kanye in the West
Elliot Sperber
Dollar Store 
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail