PAHO Director Emeritus, Dr. Carissa Etienne dies

Statement by the Pan American Health Organisation on the death of Dr. Carissa Etienne

“It is with great sorrow that the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) informs of the passing of Director Emeritus Dr. Carissa F. Etienne.

Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, a native of Dominica, served as Director of PAHO and World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for the Americas from February 2013 to January 2023.

“Carissa was a dear friend and colleague, and under her steadfast leadership and guidance, PAHO achieved significant milestones for the region of the Americas while facing one of our greatest public health challenges with COVID-19,” PAHO Director Dr. Jarbas Barbosa said.

“I am very saddened by her passing, and my thoughts are with her family, friends and all of us at PAHO who cared deeply for her.”

During Dr. Etienne’s tenure, PAHO led the response to the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic in the Region of the Americas, as well as efforts to control the Zika and Chikungunya epidemics and cholera and yellow fever outbreaks in Haiti and Brazil, while significantly improving the Organization’s response to emergencies and disasters in the first 48 hours.

Under her leadership, the Americas eliminated endemic transmission of measles, rubella, and congenital rubella syndrome, and made considerable progress in the prevention and control of chronic noncommunicable diseases. Legislative and regulatory mechanisms gained momentum, as countries enacted laws on food labelling and introduced taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages.

Progress was also made in strengthening national health systems and making progress towards universal health. In the last five years of Dr. Etienne’s tenure, deliveries attended by skilled birth attendants increased from 95% to nearly 100% and, for the first time, the Region of the Americas reached the recommended target of 25 doctors and nurses per 10,000 inhabitants.

Prior to becoming PAHO Director, from March 2008 to November 2012, Dr. Etienne served as Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Services at WHO in Geneva, Switzerland. Prior to that, she was Deputy Director of the Pan American Sanitary Bureau from July 2003 to February 2008, where she directed five technical areas: Health Systems and Services; Technology, Healthcare and Research; Health Surveillance and Disease Management; Family and Community Health; and Sustainable Development and Environmental Health.

During her tenure at both WHO and PAHO, Dr. Etienne led efforts to renew and strengthen primary care-based health systems. He also spearheaded policies to reduce health inequalities, increase people-centered care, and integrate health into public policy.

“We have lost a great champion of public health,” Dr. Barbosa said. “Dr. Etienne’s invaluable expertise will be sorely missed in global health discussions to improve people’s lives and ensure better preparedness for global health emergencies.”

Dr. Etienne began her career in her native Dominica as a Medical Officer at Princess Margaret Hospital and was later appointed Chief Medical Officer of that country. She also held other high-level positions in Dominica, including Director of Primary Health Care Services, National AIDS Program Coordinator, Disaster Coordinator of the Ministry of Health, and Chair of the National HIV/AIDS Advisory Council.

Dr. Etienne holds a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery from the University of the West Indies, Jamaica and a Master’s degree in Community Health in Developing Countries from the School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine at the University of London.”


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