Hemispheric health agency sees progress

Since the early 2000s, Latin America and the Caribbean has seen meaningful progress toward universal health coverage with an additional 46 million people in nine countries having at least nominal guarantees of affordable health care, according to a new joint publication by the Pan American Health Organization and the World Bank.

“The report shows that countries have made meaningful progress toward universal health coverage, with increases in population coverage and access to health services, a rise in public spending on health, and a decline in out-of-pocket payments,” said Carissa Etienne, Pan American Health director. “Despite the advances, much remains to be done to close the equity gap and address new health challenges in the region.”

The report, “Toward Universal Health Coverage and Equity in Latin America and the Caribbean: Evidence from Selected Countries,” shows that while countries have been expanding population coverage and access to health services, the poor remain underserved, and inadequate attention is paid to noncommunicable diseases that account for most deaths in the region. The study primarily focusses on 10 countries: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Jamaica, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay.

“The region has increased its spending on health and narrowed the gap between rich and poor on a number of key outcomes: average life expectancy has risen significantly, more children live to see their first and fifth birthdays, and fewer mothers are dying from complications of childbirth,” said Jorge Familiar, World Bank vice president for Latin America and the Caribbean. “In a context of constrained resources and lower economic growth, countries now face the challenge of boosting the efficiency of their health systems to continue building on these achievements,” he said.

The report notes persistent health inequities between and within countries and the failure of some health systems to address changing health needs.

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