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Uniting to closing the gap in access to life-saving health in Mesoamerica

  • The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carlos Slim Health Institute and Spain will contribute $50 million each to Salud Mesoamerica 2015, an initiative designed and executed by the IDB.
  • Over the next five years, Salud Mesoamerica 2015 will promote projects to improve health among the poor in Central America and southern Mexico, aiming at reducing the gaps in access to health services in the region.

At age five, Mesoamerica’s poor children are on average six centimeters shorter than their richer peers. And that’s when they are fortunate enough to reach that age, since poor children younger than five have a mortality rate twice as high as the regional average.

The figures speak for themselves but should not come as a surprise given that just half of poor pregnant women in Mesoamerica get proper medical attention when they give birth.

So while overall health indicators for the region have improved in recent years, health care provided to the poorest 20 percent of the population—or about 8 million people in Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize and the southern states of Mexico—is still inadequate or inexistent.

United we prevail. The main goal of Salud Mesoamerica 2015 (SM2015)—an innovative partnership between the private and public sectors—is to reduce gaps in access to health services. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carlos Slim Health Institute, the Spanish government and the IDB will work with Mesoamerican countries to finance health projects for the poorest in the region. The five-year initiative scheduled for completion in 2015 will also support regional efforts to reach the health Millennium Development Goals.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carlos Slim Health Institute and the government of Spain will contribute $50 million each to SM2015, for a total $150 million. The idea is to entice other donors to also contribute funds.

The IDB is going beyond its traditional role as project planner and financial partner and playing a relatively new role of project executor. The Bank is now directly responsible for the projects funded under this initiative and will be working with the region's governments in the design, operation and monitoring of these projects. It will also hire independent evaluators to measure the results and the impact of each project and will manage the funds committed by the donors.

This partnership between public and private interests shows economic and social development is complex and calls for solutions that encompass public, private, business and community perspectives, with local, national and transnational components and social and environmental safeguards.

“Multilateral organizations such as the IDB can serve as an exceptional platform to marry the resources and the experience of institutions such as those of our prestigious partners, who are committed to reduce the inequality in health access in the region,” said IDB President Luis Alberto Moreno,. “Salud Mesoamerica 2015 is a catalytic tool to improve—with measurable results—health among the poorest in the region.”

Labor of love. The initiative, which starts this year, will focus on the most vulnerable groups—women and children under five. The projects will prioritize reproductive health, maternal and neonatal health, maternal and child nutrition and vaccines. It will also take aim at two diseases with a strong economic and social impact in the region: dengue and malaria.

Due to its regional nature, the initiative will take advantage of economies of scale. However, each government will be setting its own priorities, chosen among the areas described above.

SM2015 will also work with regional authorities, particularly with the Mesoamerican System of Public Health (SMSP), which is part of the regional integration platform called Project Mesoamerica.

The initiative is expected to reduce child mortality rates, reduce chronic malnutrition and reduce micronutrient deficiencies for children under two and pregnant women by 2015. It will include investment in infrastructure, equipment and human resources to extend and improve the coverage and the quality of prenatal and postnatal care, as well as access to family planning.

Innovative model. The initiative starts with an operating model that will work on the supply side of health services—by improving the coverage and the quality of basic services—and the demand side – by promoting increased use of health services and the adoption of healthier habits by poor households.

The program uses an innovative financing model based on results, which generates incentives to allocate resources more efficiently and promotes health policies based on empirical results.

The projects will be coordinated through an office that is being created at the IDB’s offices in Panama.

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