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Article

Célia Landmann Szwarcwald, Maria do Carmo Leal, Wanessa da Silva de Almeida, Mauricio Lima Barreto, Paulo Germano de Frias, Mariza Miranda Theme Filha, Rosa Maria Soares Madeira Domingues, Elisabeth Barboza Franca, Silvana Granado Nogueira da Gama, Cristiano Sigueira Boccolini, and Cesar Victora

Child health has been placed at the forefront of international initiatives for development. The adoption of the Millennium Development Goals has propelled worldwide actions to improve maternal and child health. In the course of the year 2000, the Latin American (LA) countries made marked progress in implementing effective newborn and infant life-saving interventions. Under-five mortality in LA fell by a third between 1990 and 2015, with a sharp decline in diarrheal diseases and respiratory infections. Due to the successful immunization programs in the region, some vaccine-preventable diseases have been eliminated. Many of the LA countries have reached nearly universal coverage of childbirths attended by skilled personnel and >80% coverage for antenatal care. In 2015, 18 countries in the region reported the elimination of mother-to-child transmission for both HIV and syphilis. Although the advances in the public agenda aimed at promoting child health and development in Latin American countries are undeniable, unresolved issues remain. While many stillbirths and neonatal deaths could be averted by improving access to antenatal, intra-partum, and postnatal interventions, Latin America has the highest cesarean rate among all regions of the world with an excessive number of such operations without medical indications. The simultaneous lack and excess of cesarean deliveries in LA countries reflects a model of care that excludes a considerable portion of the population and reveals the persistent gaps and inequalities in the region. One of the main challenges to be faced is the lack of sustainable financing mechanisms to provide integrated and high-quality health care to all children, equal education opportunities, and social services to support disadvantaged families. When planning interventions, equity should be restored as the guiding principle of actions to ensure inclusion and social justice. Children represent the future of society in Latin America and elsewhere. For this reason, social commitment to provide universal child health is the genesis of sustainable development and must be an absolute priority.

Article

Asa Cristina Laurell and Ligia Giovanella

Since the early 1990s, health policy in Latin America has focused on reform in most countries with the explicit purpose to increase access, decrease inequity, and provide financial protection. Basically, two different and opposed models of reform have been implemented: the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) model and the Single Universal Health System model. The essential characteristics of Latin American UHC are that health care is commodified by the introduction of competition that depends, in turn, on the payer/provider split, free choice, and pre-priced health service plans. In this framework, insurance, be it public or private, is crucial to assuring market solvency, because health needs not backed by purchasing power do not constitute a market that is particularly important in the Latin American region, the most unequal in the world. The Single Universal Health System (in Spanish, Sistema Universal de Salud, SUS) model is a model inspired by the principles of social justice and egalitarian, universal social rights. Characteristically funded by tax revenues, it makes provision of health services to the whole population a responsibility of the State and a universal citizens’ entitlement, independent of individual ability to pay or prior contributions. It considers health to be a public good that, for reasons of efficiency and equity, the market cannot provide. Everyone is entitled, as a right, to free care financed by the State. Given that health system reform occurs in specific historical contexts, these models have had different results in each country. In order to highlight the concrete reform outcomes, the following issues need be addressed: the political scenario and the stakeholders involved; the previous health system and the relative strength of the public and private sectors; coverage achieved by public institutions or insurance, public or private; the different health packages existing within each country; the institutional (re)organization; and the relative importance of public health actions. An analysis is needed of the UHC reforms in Chile, Colombia, and Mexico, on the one hand; and the Single Universal Health System in Brazil, Venezuela, and Cuba on the other. The UHC model in practice tends to increase inequity in access, create new bureaucratic barriers to timely care, fail to provide financial protection, and leads to deteriorated public health measures. It has also created new powerful private sector stakeholders, particularly in Chile and Colombia, while in Mexico the predominance of a strong public sector has “crowed-out” the private one. The Single Universal Health System has significantly increased access for millions that before reform had almost no access and has also strengthened public health actions. However, the strong preexisting private sector providers have profited from the public-sector purchases of complex medical services. Private health insurance has also increased among the upper middle class and workers belonging to strong labor unions.

Article

Marcos Cueto and Steven Palmer

From the late 19th to the late 20th century, Latin America was a developing region of the world in which public and private health discourses, practices, and a network of agencies were consolidated. Many organizations appeared as a response to pandemics, such as yellow fever, that attacked the main ports and cities, and they interacted with global agencies such as the Rockefeller Foundation. Frequently, single-disease-focused and technocratic approaches were promoted in a pattern that can be defined as the “culture of survival.” However, some practitioners believed in public health programs as a tool to improve the living conditions of the poor, the most important being comprehensive primary health care, which emerged in the late 1970s. Toward the end of the Cold War (ca. 1980s), neo-liberal reformers supported a restrictive idea of primary care health that overemphasized cost-effectiveness and efficiency.

Article

The construction of the concepts of diplomacy and health diplomacy must consider their conceptions and practices, at both the global and regional levels. Health diplomacy is vitally important in a global context, where health problems cross national borders and more new stakeholders appear every day, both within and outside the health sector. On the other hand, regional integration processes provide excellent opportunities for collective actions and solutions to many of the health challenges at the global level. In the current global context, the best conditions for dealing with many health challenges are found at the global level, but the regional and subregional spheres also play essential roles. The region of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) consists of 26 countries or territories that occupy a territory of 7,412,000 square miles—almost 13% of the Earth’s land surface area; it extends from Mexico to Patagonia, where about 621 million people live (as of 2015), distributed among different ethnic groups. Geographically, it is divided into Mexico and Central America, the Caribbean, and South America, but it presents subregions with populations and cultures that are a little more homogenous, like the subregions of the Andes and the English Caribbean. By its characteristics, LAC has acquired increasing global political and economic importance. In the 1960s, integration processes began in the region, including the creation of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), Mercosur, the Andean Community, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Central American System, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO), the Sistema Económico Latinoamericano y del Caribe (SELA), the Asociación Latinoamericana de Integración (ALADI), and finally, since 2010, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños, or CELAC), which is the most comprehensive integrative organization. While originally a mechanism for political and economic integration, health is now an important component of all the abovementioned integration processes, with growing social, political, and economic importance in each country and in the region, currently integrating the most important regional and global negotiations. Joint protection against endemic diseases and epidemics, as well as noncommunicable diseases, coordination of border health care, joint action on the international scene (particularly in multilateral organizations such as the United Nations and its main agencies), and the sectoral economic importance of health are among the main situations and initiatives related to health diplomacy in these integration processes. The effectiveness of integration actions—and health within those actions—varies according to the political orientations of the national governments in each conjuncture, amplifying or reducing the spectrum of activities performed. The complexity of both the present and future of this rich political process of regional health diplomacy is also very important for global health governance (GHG).