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Published:March 25th, 2007 12:13 EST
HHS Secretary Leavitt Visits Central America to Advance Initiative to Improve Health Infrastructure

HHS Secretary Leavitt Visits Central America to Advance Initiative to Improve Health Infrastructure

By SOP newswire

HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt will visit five Central American countries next week as part of the President's initiative for advancing the cause of social justice in the Western Hemisphere. Following closely on the President's recent trip to Latin America, the Secretary will discuss the Administration's initiative for health diplomacy in the Americas with top officials in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

The health component of the President's initiative will channel technical and financial resources from the U.S. Government and the private-sector to improve health care for people in Central America. In coming months, health care workers from HHS and the U.S military will work with local health workers to provide direct care to the poor of Central America. During the Secretary's trip, he will sign Letters of Intent with the five nations to start a Regional Training Center for health-care workers. The Center will be located in Panama City, but it will train students from all over the region for service in their home countries.

"By working together, we can improve the health of the people of Central America, build a common defense against disease, and bring all of our countries closer together," Secretary Leavitt said. "Health care problems know no borders. The solution to our shared health problems is shared medical expertise. I am excited by this opportunity to work with my counterparts in Central America and local medical and dental professionals to improve the health care infrastructure in our hemisphere."

The health initiative seeks to help shift Central America's health care focus from treatment to prevention. Further, the initiative will advance efforts toward better oral health care, which can significantly impact health care costs and prevent health care problems.

The Secretary's overarching strategy for the health diplomacy component of the President's initiative in the Americas centers on three key objectives:

  • Direct patient care provided in the region by U.S. Government personnel -- Beginning this summer, U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps dentists from HHS will join U.S. Southern Command military medical and humanitarian missions to provide preventive dental care to needy citizens of these countries. The U.S.N.S Comfort -- a Navy medical ship -- will make port calls in 12 countries, and its doctors, nurses, and health care professionals, including personnel from the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, expect to treat 85,000 patients -- and conduct up to 1,500 surgeries. These missions will be mutually beneficial, as they will serve as an opportunity for U.S. government personnel to hone their skills in providing culturally competent care domestically and abroad.
  • Establishment of a Regional Training Center in Panama to train health care workers -- Starting next month, the school will train a broad variety of local health-care workers -- community health workers, sub-physicians, sub-nurses, technicians -- so they can provide basic care. The training will also help them prepare for situations that could require specific skills related to infectious disease, such as pandemic influenza.
  • Harnessing the energies of U.S. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that work in the region to coordinate health assistance -- By better coordinating on-the-ground delivery of health care with U.S. NGOs that are operating in the region, we can do a better job of making the most of the resources we have to devote to this mission.

Panama, a key partner and the host of the proposed training center, signed a letter of intent on March 20, 2007; the Panamanian Minister of Health, Camilo Alleyne Marshall, M.D., will accompany Secretary Leavitt throughout the trip. At various points, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Julie Gerberding, Assistant Secretary for Health John Agwunobi and Assistant Secretary for Aging Josefina Carbonell will also join the delegation.

HHS and other federal departments and agencies have a long history of collaboration with Governments and public and private organizations in the Americas to address the most pressing health issues. Since 2001, the United States has spent almost $1 billion on health programs in the region. As a founding member of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) over 100 years ago, the United States has provided leadership as well as technical assistance, and collaborated in bilateral and multilateral programs of mutual hemispheric interest in the Americas (e.g., water and sanitation, tobacco control, training, biomedical and behavioral research, border health, disease eradication and the fight against HIV/AIDS).

SOURCE:  Dept. of Health and Human Services