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).