Official funeral for Dominican-born Dr. Carissa Etienne, former head of PAHO

Dr. Carissa Etienne

The Government of Dominica has accorded the late Dr. Carissa Etienne an official funeral.

The announcement was made by Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit during a press briefing today.

Dr. Etienne who was a public health expert and former head of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) passed away in the United States (US) on Friday, December 1, 2023.

“The Government of Dominica has been in contact with Dr. Etienne’s family informing them of a cabinet decision to grant her an official funeral in honour of her outstanding contribution to Dominica and the world,” Prime Minister Skerrit said. “Details of this will be shared with the public at a later date.”

He continued, “Dr. Etienne was a monumental figure in public healthcare here in Dominica, in the region and globally. She made her mark as Director of the Pan American Health Organization for two terms and served also in key leadership roles to the World Health Organization.”

Additionally, he said as an advocate for universal health coverage she was particularly effective and inspiring for her work in reducing health inequalities and caring for people, “as well as for leading PAHO’s response to the Covid-19 Pandemic and the Zika and Chikungunya epidemics.”

“Dr. Etienne led Dominica to a place of distinction in the provision of primary health care to our citizens,” Skerrit stated. “She was very much involved in the primary healthcare program.”

He added, “Among Dominicans, I think she will be remembered best for her work at the local level as a physician and public health administrator and certainly for her kindness, warmth and love for people.”

On behalf of the government and the people of Dominica Prime Minister Skerrit once again expressed sincere condolences to the family of the late Dr. Carissa Etienne.

Dr. Carissa F. Etienne was 71 at the time of her passing. She recently retired after 10 years at the helm of PAHO and was declared Director-Emeritus on September 30, 2022. From 2008-2012, she served as Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Services at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland. Before that, she served as Assistant Director of PAHO from 2003-2008, where she led five technical areas: Health Systems and Services; Technology, Health Care and Research; Health Surveillance and Disease Management; Family and Community Health; and Sustainable Development and Environmental Health.

She received her medical degree [Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery – MBBS] from the University of the West Indies, Jamaica, and her Master of Science Degree [MSc] in Community Health in developing countries from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of London.

She began her career here in Dominica as a medical doctor at the then Princess Margaret Hospital (now the Dominica China Friendship Hospital), eventually becoming Chief Medical Officer. She also served in many high-level posts including Coordinator of the National AIDS Program, Disaster Coordinator for the Ministry of Health, Chair of the National Advisory Council for HIV/AIDS, and Director of Primary Health Care Services.

Under her leadership, PAHO supported Member States in coping with major epidemics, including Zika, chikungunya, and yellow fever, as well as disasters ranging from hurricanes and catastrophic flooding to earthquakes and droughts. Dr. Etienne was always a champion of quality health service for everyone. In her acceptance speech when she was elected for the second time as head of PAHO in 2017, she cited her “commitment to deliver to all of our peoples, from all walks of society, a long and productive life, with quality care into our senior years; access to quality health services without fear of impoverishment; access to medicines and vaccines that we can afford, including effective antibiotics; freedom from preventable diseases, with reduced exposure to disease vectors.”

According to PAHO, she championed the achievement of Universal Health as an overarching goal for the Americas, based on the primary healthcare approach.

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