A Better Health Agenda for the Americas

Alternet |

A Better Health Agenda for the Americas

Latin America needs comprehensive health care solutions, not minor uncontroversial changes.

In June 2007 the Ministers of Health of all Latin American nations issued a Health Agenda for the Americas: 2008-2015, (the "Agenda") a supposedly comprehensive plan for improving the health of the people of the Americas that was anything but comprehensive. It managed to leave out many proven recommendations for improving the sexual and reproductive health of the citizens of Latin America.

Infant and Maternal Mortality

If the moral soundness of a society is measured by how it treats its children, then Latin America, while better than Africa, does not measure up. Infant mortality in Latin America is stubbornly high -- averaging 23 per 1000 live births (versus 7 in the U.S.) -- though an improvement from 81 per 1,000 live births in the years 1970-1975. Maternal mortality is far too high, with Bolivia and Peru leading at rates of 420 and 410 per 100,000 births respectively, as opposed to 17 in the U.S. Uruguay has the low at 27. The major causes of high infant and maternal mortality are well known: poverty, lack of skilled birth attendants and deficiencies in emergency medical care. There are underlying causes as well that lead to these medical emergencies, and they all fall under the rubric of sexual and reproductive health. Health experts, and mothers, know that contraception which enables intended pregnancy can improve outcomes by 1) delaying first birth until a women has fully matured, 2) birth spacing, permitting a mother to regain her health and to fully nurture the child she has before giving birth to the next, and 3) reduction in absolute number of births, allowing the mother to give more care to the children she has. The Agenda, to its credit, called access to contraceptives "indispensable," and called for continuous care to mothers before, during and after pregnancy, for increased efforts to prevent transmission of STI's and for stronger men's roles in all these.

While a good start, this is insufficient.

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