Dominican-born Dr. Carissa Etienne, a well-respected public health expert in the Caribbean and the world, has passed away.
According to reports, she died during the early hours of Friday morning.
Family members confirmed to reporters in Dominica that she collapsed at her home in Maryland.
Dr. Etienne was the Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Regional Director for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).
She was an advocate for universal health coverage, and her contributions to the field of public health will always be remembered.
Dr. Etienne had a distinguished career, starting as a medical officer in the Princess Margaret Hospital in Dominica before serving in various positions such as Director of Primary Health Care Services and Chief Medical Officer.
She was also Assistant Director of PAHO and Assistant Director-General of Health Systems and Services at the WHO.
Dr. Etienne graduated from the University of the West Indies in Jamaica with a degree in Medicine and Surgery and held a master’s degree in community health from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, UK.
She was a well-respected figure in the field of public health.
“My vision for the Americas is of a society free from inequality where everyone, particularly the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people, can lead healthy, meaningful and productive lives,” was one of her last remarks
The Embassy of Sweden in Washington D.C. unveiled the official portrait of Dr. Etienne in January, who was declared Director-Emeritus on September 30, at the 30th Pan American Sanitary Conference.
Throughout her tenure, Dr. Etienne strengthened PAHO’s technical cooperation and spearheaded innovative partnerships with both foundations and the private sector.
She championed the attainment of Universal Health as a comprehensive goal for the Americas, based on the primary health care approach.
Dr. Etienne developed strategies, policies, and plans to expand access to comprehensive care, particularly for vulnerable populations and in underserved and rural areas.
She also worked towards improving governance and stewardship in health, financing for health, and intersectoral action to address the social determinants of health. In addition, she founded PAHO’s Department for Non-Communicable Diseases and Mental Health to advocate for policies to increase taxes on unhealthy food products and scaling-up interventions aligned with the Framework Convention of Tobacco Control.
Among other accomplishments, Dr. Etienne led the organization’s drive towards eliminating diseases like HIV, malaria, trachoma, lymphatic filariasis, Chagas, and others, and mobilized programs to prevent and control non-communicable diseases.
In the Caribbean, she spearheaded PAHO’s efforts to help countries adapt and respond to ever-increasing climate-related disasters, including hurricanes and floods.
The SMART Hospitals Network, which began in 2015, facilitated the retrofitting of 50 health facilities in the small island states of the Caribbean to become safe, green, and resilient to climate-related disasters.
Dr. Etienne’s leadership was critical in enabling the region to prepare for and mitigate the worst effects of the pandemic during the second half of her tenure.
Under her guidance, PAHO’s Revolving Fund for Access to Vaccines delivered over 151 million COVID-19 vaccines, contributing to the swift rollout of this life-saving technology in the region.
She also introduced a new people strategy, including a learning portal, updated information technology systems, and a telework policy to ensure better work-life balance at PAHO, demonstrating her concern for employee well-being and productivity.