Societies, crisis and public health in the European Union, Latin America and the Caribbean

From 31 May to 2 June 2021, as every year in the framework of the Latin America and Caribbean Week, the colloquium "Societies, Crisis and Public Health in Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean" was organised by the Institute of the Americas (IdA) in collaboration with the EU-LAC Foundation, the Agence Française de Développement (AFD) and the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs (MEAE). The colloquium focused on the lessons of the global crisis of COVID-19 concerning the functioning of national health systems and current economic models and addressed the implications for social cohesion in the two regions and for international relations.

At the opening, which was moderated by Yves Saint-Geours (President of the IdA), the Executive Director of the EU-LAC Foundation, Dr Adrián Bonilla indicated the importance of the interconnection between hard knowledge and civil societies to alleviate the negative social and economic consequences of the pandemic for people, and also highlighted the need to mitigate the crisis around common policies of the countries of the European Union, Latin America and the Caribbean regions. According to Dr Bonilla, it is urgent to reactivate public health policy systems for the most vulnerable groups. Matthieu Peyraud, Director of the Culture, Education, Research and Networking Directorate of the MEAE, emphasised that the pandemic revealed failures in our health systems, and therefore, multilateral cooperation is the only way to face the crisis in favour of human and animal health and the environment. The Director of the AFD's Latin America department, Bruno Leclerc, said that the pandemic has highlighted the importance of health and that Latin America has been very strongly affected at the socio-economic level. He agreed with his predecessors that cooperation between all is necessary to create more effective bridges between the two regions. Finally, Anne-Peggy Hellequin, Scientific Coordinator of the Colloquium and Professor of Geography, Université Paris Nanterre - Laboratoire LADYSS, urged to take into account the multidimensional aspects of this colloquium and called to learn lessons from the challenges given by COVID-19.

The first day addressed health systems as reflections of political systems - Public decision and health systems: between resilience and innovation. Moderator Alexis Le Quinio (Professor in public law at the Institut d'Études Politiques de Lyon, France) highlighted the resilience of health systems despite the enormous difficulties resulting from the pandemic but emphasised the need to develop new strategies and training opportunities for hospital staff. Egidio Luis Motti (Economist and researcher at the economics centre of the Université Sorbonne Paris Nord, France) addressed the issue of the triple dilemma during the beginning of the pandemic in each country: Either prioritise public freedom, or the economy, or health. Dr Luisa Basilia Iñiguez Rojas (Emeritus Professor of Geography at the University of Havana, Cuba) presented Cuban initiatives to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in urban and rural areas and to develop vaccines. After summarising the main characteristics of the Costa Rican health system, Yeli Víquez Rodríguez (Directorate of the Poas Health Zone, Ministry of Health, Costa Rica) explained the management of the pandemic in Costa Rica, based on communication, coordination and cooperation and its results. Miguel Ángel González Block (General Director of Evisys, Associate Researcher at the Faculty of Health Sciences, Universidad Anáhuac and Honorary Researcher at the National Institute of Public Health, Mexico) reflected on the decision-making process in the Mexican federal system, highlighting the challenges of the health system, and the great current opportunity to improve the health system. Stéphanie Seydoux (French Ambassador for Global Health) concluded the first round table by referring to French initiatives to improve the situation of women in general.

During the second day, speakers gave their answers to the question: Towards new health economics: revealing inequalities? Moderator Dr Vera Chiodi (Professor in Economics at the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, member of IHEAL CREDA, France) opened the debate by stating that the consequences of the crisis are strongest for informal workers, women, migrants and children. Alberto Arenas de Mesa (Director of the Social Development Division, ECLAC, UN, Chile) explained how inequality and vulnerability have increased in Latin America due to COVID-19, referring to inequitable access to vaccines, worsening of already existing gaps in the region, especially in terms of employment and income. It is therefore important to strengthen synergies between health and social protection systems to move towards new social pacts that guarantee more equality and future sustainability. Dr Merike Blofield, Director of the Institute for Latin American Studies, German Institute for Global and Regional Studies (GIGA) in Hamburg, Germany, outlined the different measures and strategies that have been taken to respond to the pandemic crisis in relation to the most vulnerable social groups in Latin America. Dr Anna Barrera Vivero (Senior Programme Coordinator, EU-LAC Foundation) then presented the impact of the pandemic focusing on the particular situations of women and people with disabilities, providing testimonies from the Caribbean and Latin American region. Quiterie Pincent (Director of AFD in Cuba) explained the role of AFD in reducing global inequalities, especially in Cuba. Finally, Dr Yazdan Yazdanpanah (Director of the ANRS and the I3M Institute and Head of the Department of Infectious and Tropical Diseases, Bichat Claude Bernard Hospital, France) concluded the debate by emphasising the differences in research funding between the North and the South and underlining the contribution of the ANRS to reduce them, especially concerning infectious diseases.

The theme of the last day, moderated by Dr Alicia Márquez Murrieta, Professor and researcher at the Department of Politics and Economics at the Instituto de Investigaciones Dr José María Luis Mora, Mexico), focused on building the post-pandemic world: What participation of civil society in public health policies? Dr Natalia Pasternak (President of the Question of Science Institute, Brazil) spoke about integrating science into public policy to ensure decisions based on scientific knowledge. With COVID-19, scientific misinformation has reached very high levels in Brazil and worldwide and therefore good communication of sound science is essential. Dr Patrícia Laczynski (Professor at the Federal University of São Paulo, Instituto das Cidades, Brazil) presented local civil society initiatives in times of pandemic, focusing on the situation of the most vulnerable population living in precarious conditions and with difficult access to health care, regarding São Paulo. Francisco A. Rossi Buenaventura (Doctor specialised in epidemiology, senior advisor to the IFARMA Foundation, Colombia) spoke about access to medicines and citizen participation in public health policies in Colombia, highlighting the need to consider vaccines as a public good. Andrea Costafreda (Director for Latin America and the Caribbean at Oxfam Intermón, Spain) referred to multilateral actions in the management of the pandemic and the role of Oxfam. To conclude, Áine Markham (Vice President International Board, Médecins Sans Frontières) presented the work of Médecins Sans Frontières at local and international level to mitigate the negative effects of COVID-19.

We thank all attendees and panellists for contributing to the success of the event.

The full report of the Colloquium will be published soon. Videos of the sessions are available here.