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date: 23 April 2018

Health Diplomacy in the Political Process of Integration in Latin America

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Global Public Health. Please check back later for the full article.

The region of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) consists of 26 countries or territories that occupy a territory of 7,412,000 square miles, almost 13% of the Earth's land surface area, which extends from Mexico to Patagonia, where about 621 million people live (2015), distributed among different ethnic groups. Geographically, it is divided into Mexico and Central America, Caribbean and South America, but presents sub-regions with populations and cultures a little more homogenous, like the sub-regions of the Andes and the English Caribbean, for example. By its characteristics, LAC has acquired increasing global political and economic importance.

In the 1960s, integration processes began in the region, including UNASUR, Mercosur, the Andean Community, Caricom, the Central American System, ALBA, ACTO, SELA, ALADI, and finally, since 2010, the most comprehensive integrative organization, CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States).

While starting as a mechanism for political and economic integration, health is now an important component of all the integration processes mentioned, with growing social, political, and economic importance in each country and in the region, currently integrating the most important regional and global negotiations.

Joint protection against endemic diseases and epidemics, as well as non-communicable diseases, coordination of border health care, joint action on the international scene—particularly in multilateral organizations such as the United Nations and its main agencies—and the sectoral economic importance of health are among the main situations and initiatives related to “health diplomacy” in the aforementioned integration processes.

The greater or lesser effectiveness of integration actions—and health within those actions—varies according to the political orientations of the national governments in each conjuncture, amplifying or reducing the spectrum of activities performed. The complexity of both the present and future of this rich political process of regional health diplomacy is also quite important for global health governance.