Last week, the international development community celebrated the United Nations Day for South-South Cooperation, an opportunity for stakeholders to examine how developing and emerging countries can share knowledge, exchange best practices and pursue joint projects to generate tangible solutions to development challenges.
As a young officer in Argentina’s ministry of health, I attended in 1978 the first U.N. Conference on Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries, which produced the Buenos Aires Plan of Action to offer guidance and new energy to the concept of South-South cooperation. Almost at the same time, in Kazakhstan, which was then still part of the Soviet Union, the International Conference on Primary Health Care concluded with the Alma Ata Declaration, a public health milestone that recognized health as a fundamental human right.
It was an exciting time to be a part of these landmarks in public health, and see how these principles are being carried out today.
A closer look at Brazil and Venezuela’s joint commitment to control and eliminate neglected tropical diseases within the Yanomami community — a nomadic indigenous tribe of approximately 35,000 people — highlights the key role South-South cooperation has had in reaching populations that need key health interventions. Equally important, this successful model can be replicated within Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as across the globe.
The Yanomami live in a remote stretch of tropical rainforests and mountains in the border area of northern Brazil and southern Venezuela. The area is over 9.6 million hectares — about twice the size of Switzerland — and represents the largest forested indigenous territory in the world. However, this entire community is affected by or at risk of contracting the parasitic disease onchocerciasis, or river blindness, which is caused by fly bites and can lead to loss of sight.