The Opening Ceremony for the Edmundo Granda Ugalde Leaders in International Health Program (LIHP) 2014 took place on 10 June 2014. Over 100 individuals participated in the event, including PAHO/WHO country office staff, current and former LIHP participants, and colleagues from ministries of health and of foreign affairs, regional integration bodies, professional associations and international cooperation agencies. Gathered across more than 28 countries and connected virtually through Blackboard Collaborate, invitees participated in local events honoring the LIHP 2013 participants while simultaneously welcoming this years’ new cohort of leaders.

The bilingual event included a keynote presentation by Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, Director of the Pan American Health Organization. Dr. Etienne welcomed the participants of the 7th cohort of the LIHP and exhorted them to join in the efforts towards attaining universal health coverage, noting that it is one of the most important challenges that they face has current and future leaders.

In her remarks directed towards the participants, Dr. Etienne stated, “You are current and future leaders. And decision makers. You are creators, drivers and implementers of policies and programs. And this makes you a special group of people. Over the years, PAHO, through its Leaders in International Health Program, has contributed to the development of public health leaders in the region. We hope to continue to contribute towards your development as leaders and empower you to join the call to action to move the world closer towards the achievement of universal health coverage.”

Dr. Etienne noted the importance of global health diplomacy in advancing these efforts, drawing examples from previous successes with the International Health Regulations, Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, and WHO Action plan for the global strategy for the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases. Nonetheless, she recognized that the way forward will not be easy. “The road is not easy. The funds are scarce. There will be resistance and there is already resistance. But I think generally that the political will and the commitment is there. I believe that the foundation is there, particularly in this region. And, most importantly, the need is there.”

Dr. Etienne highlighted the LIHP as providing a framework for inter-sectoral, inter-disciplinary and inter-country cooperation and urged participants to capitalize on the broad diversity of professions, countries and institutions represented in the program to work together towards innovative solutions. “This is a tremendous opportunity that as a group you can take a holistic view of confronting the challenges of this region in reaching its goal of health and wellbeing…. We hope that as you come together, as you pull your ideas together, that hopefully PAHO can gain from your insight.” She added, “You will lend your voices to be part of this historic movement but also you will lend your eyes, your hands, your brains, your hearts and build on the passion that is necessary to achieve this goal.”

Following Dr. Etienne’s speech, Dr. Maria Isabel Rodriguez, founder of the international health training program in 1985, as well as former Minister of Health and current advisor to the President of El Salvador, took the floor, adding her best wishes for the Program and its success. She was followed by a number of participants who commented on the principles and values inherent in universal health coverage and primary health care as well as the need for sharing successful models and lessons learned.

The LIHP 2014 includes 36 participants from 20 PAHO member countries. Participants come from many diverse institutional and academic backgrounds, including health, international relations, law, social sciences, environmental sciences, economics, veterinary medicines, engineering and others. Throughout the eight-month Program, participants interact with each other, tutors, mentors, PAHO/WHO country offices and outside collaborators to form professional networks while debating current events and completing learning activities in each of the Program’s virtual modules. Participants also develop a country project related to a real-life priority public health issue in their country or region that they present upon culmination of the Program. More information on the Program can be found at this link.