The inauguration ceremony of the Director of the Pan American Health Organization, Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), Dr. Jarbas Barbosa da Silva Jr., took place on January 31 at the headquarters of the Organization of American States (OAS), in Washington, D.C., in the United States. The solemnity was attended (sometimes virtually) by the following personalities:
- Sir Molwyn Joseph, Minister of Health, Welfare and Environment of Antigua and Barbuda, and vice-chair of the 30th Pan American Sanitary Conference, who presided over the solemnity
- Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the OAS
- Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO (unable to attend in person, he sent a video with best wishes and welcome to the PAHO Director)
- Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Health and Human Services of the United States
- Carissa F. Etienne, PAHO’s prior Director
- Nísia Trindade Lima, Brazil’s Minister of Health
- Carlyle Guerra de Macedo, PAHO Director Emeritus (participation via video)
- Sir George Alleyne, PAHO Director Emeritus (participation via video)
- Mirta Roses, PAHO Director Emeritus (participation via video)
Dr. Jarbas takes office with a commitment to “work to address the historic inequalities between and within countries,” as well as to ensure recovery from the covid-19 pandemic. To this end, his mandate will be based on five strategic pillars:
- Help member states end the pandemic in the Americas with the best tools we have at hand, primarily surveillance and vaccines.
- Apply the lessons we have learned from the pandemic and actively address our vulnerabilities so that we are much better prepared to face new threats as they arise.
- Ensure rapid and equitable access to health innovations for all countries in the region.
- Build resilient national health systems based on renewed and strengthened primary care.
- Strengthen PAHO’s capacity to support member countries
Dr. Barbosa recalled in his inaugural speech what motivated the creation of PAHO. “One hundred and twenty years ago, our countries set out to build an alliance to improve health conditions and to confront outbreaks and epidemics together. It must not have been easy to build the consensus needed to create and strengthen this Organization. However, I am sure that our predecessors were only able to overcome so many difficulties because what moved them was a dream. The dream of Pan Americanism.”
To the previous Director of the Organization, Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, whom Jarbas referred to as a “friend and mentor” and deeply thanked for the opportunity to have served as his Assistant Director and pointed out the similarity between their approaches, despite coming from seemingly such different countries.
Nísia Trindade Lima, Brazil’s Minister of Health, carried a letter from President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, in which he congratulated Jarbas Barbosa on the day of his inauguration as PAHO Director, emphasizing that Brazil attaches great importance to health issues and to the Organization itself. Lula acknowledged the challenges Brazil faces in health, such as pandemics and inequalities, stating that it is necessary to resume vaccination campaigns, not only against covid-19, but against all diseases that can be prevented through vaccines. The president also mentioned the importance of containing misinformation and making health decisions based on science. In this sense, said President Lula in his letter, “I take this opportunity to renew our commitment to inter-American cooperation and solidarity for the realization of the right to health, which is inscribed in the Brazilian Constitution. Count on Brazil to overcome the new challenges to be faced during your mandate.”
The Brazilian Health Minister reaffirmed that “Dr. Jarbas Barbosa is one of the main builders of public health in Brazil and in the Americas region. I use here the idea of constructors of collective health, a term proposed by sociologist Maria Cecilia Minayo. In this way, I analyze the exemplary trajectory of the new PAHO Director. A thinker and, at the same time, a builder, someone who transforms ideas into lasting institutional practices. Throughout his extensive career, he has worked in different areas within the Brazilian Unified Health System. As a public health specialist, he has always fought to defend the principles of a Brazilian health reform and to work towards an inclusive and solidary society that has health as a universal right”.
The chairman of the ceremony, Sir Molwyn Joseph, Antigua and Barbuda’s Minister of Health, Welfare and Environment, greeted Dr Jarbas Barbosa with the words “Today, you begin your task of continuing the good work of the long line of leaders who have helped the countries of the Americas over the past 120 years. Now, you have the opportunity to carve your own path and destiny as you lead us into a post-pandemic era with its many challenges. I have no doubt that your experience, technical expertise, and passion for what public health can offer will enable you to achieve your goal of building a better, more just world with universal health care.
On February 6th, at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, during the 152nd meeting of its Executive Committee, Jarbas Barbosa da Silva Jr. was sworn in as the WHO Regional Director for the Americas. The ceremony was attended by the WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, among other authorities and staff at PAHO headquarters.
About Jarbas Barbosa da Silva Jr.
Jarbas Barbosa da Silva Jr. a native of Brazil, is a physician specializing in public health and epidemiology, with a master’s degree in medical sciences and a doctorate in public health. From 2017, until his appointment, he served as Assistant Director of the Organization. He led PAHO/WHO efforts to combat the covid-19 pandemic with Member States and played a leading role in the expansion of mRNA vaccine production in Latin America and the Caribbean. In Brazil, he served in different instances of the Ministry of Health and was Secretary of Health Surveillance and Director-President of the National Health Surveillance Agency (ANVISA) from 2015 to 2018, among other attributions in public service in the area of public health and epidemiology.
 Maria Cecília de Souza Minayo holds a BA in Sociology from the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro and Queens College of the City University of New York; an MA in Social Anthropology from the National Museum of the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro; and a PhD in Public Health from the National School of Public Health of the Fundação Oswaldo Cruz.