Dr. Carissa Faustina Etienne was born on November 2, 1952, in Roseau, Dominica. From an early age, it was evident that she possessed an extraordinary intellect and an insatiable curiosity for the medical field. Her nurses’ parents recognized her passion and encouraged her to pursue her dreams.
Etienne’s educational journey began at Emmanuel High School in Dominica, where she quickly distinguished herself as a brilliant student. Her teachers often marvelled at her voracious appetite for knowledge and her ability to grasp complex concepts effortlessly. After completing her secondary education, she embarked on her tertiary studies at the University of the West Indies, where she earned her degree in medicine.
Upon graduation, Dr. Etienne embarked on a path defining her remarkable career. She began serving as a medical officer in Dominica, providing essential healthcare services to underserved communities. During this time, she developed a deep understanding of the challenges faced by developing nations in their pursuit of healthcare equity.
Driven by her empathy and commitment to improving public health, she pursued a Master of Public Health degree at the University of the West Indies. This decision marked a turning point in her life, opening doors to international opportunities and expanding her vision for healthcare solutions.
After completing her Master’s degree, Dr. Etienne worked tirelessly to advance her expertise in the field. She embarked on a journey to various countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States, where she gained invaluable experience and honed her skills.
Dr. Etienne held numerous leadership positions at prestigious institutions throughout her distinguished career. She served as the Chief Medical Officer of Dominica, the Director of Health Systems Development and Services at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and ultimately became the Director of PAHO itself. Her colleagues and acquaintances frequently recall her exceptional leadership qualities and unwavering commitment to improving health outcomes in the Americas.
Dr. Etienne’s impact extended beyond her administrative roles. She made notable contributions to various areas of public health, including eradicating infectious diseases, preparedness and response to emergencies, and promoting universal health coverage. Her research and advocacy work resulted in implementation of crucial policies beneficial to the entire region.
Those who worked closely with Dr. Etienne often describe her as someone with immense knowledge and genuine compassion for others. Her colleagues remember her as a mentor who went above and beyond to nurture and support aspiring healthcare professionals.
One of her former mentees, Dr. Maria Hernandez, reflects on Dr. Etienne’s impact on her life: “Dr. Etienne wasn’t just a boss; she was a mentor and a friend. She showed me the importance of empathy in leadership and taught me to be unwavering in my pursuit of excellence. Her guidance shaped the person and professional I am today.”
Dr. Carissa Faustina Etienne passed away on December 1, 2023, leaving behind a lasting legacy in the field of public health. Her contributions have undoubtedly improved countless individuals’ lives and transformed healthcare systems throughout the Americas. Dr. Etienne’s dedication to equitable healthcare, exceptional leadership, and compassionate spirit will continue to inspire future generations of healthcare professionals. She will be remembered as a true pioneer and one of the most influential figures in public health.
Career: Dr. Carissa Faustina Etienne
Dr. Carissa Etienne was a prominent figure in the field of public health and currently serves as the Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the specialized health agency for the Americas. With an impressive background and a wealth of experience, Dr. Etienne has made significant contributions to public health and has played a vital role in improving healthcare systems and addressing key health issues in the Americas.
Dr. Etienne, a native of Dominica, earned her medical degree from the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. She later obtained a Master’s Degree in Community Health and a Ph.D. in Community Health Planning and Administration from the University of London. Her educational background lays a solid foundation for her work in public health, allowing her to combine medical knowledge with strategic planning and administration skills.
Dr. Etienne began her career as a medical officer in Dominica and quickly rose through the ranks, holding various positions that allowed her to gain a deep understanding of the healthcare landscape in the Caribbean. She served as the Director of Primary Health Care Services in Dominica and worked with the Caribbean Epidemiology Center (CAREC), where she focused on disease surveillance and control programs.
Her extensive experience and dedication to public health caught the attention of the World Health Organization (WHO), leading to her appointment as the Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Services. In this role, she worked on strengthening healthcare systems worldwide, focusing on vulnerable populations and people in low-resource settings. Her work at the WHO provided her with invaluable experience that she would later apply during her tenure at PAHO.
In 2013, Dr. Etienne was elected as the Director of PAHO, becoming the first female to hold this position. Her extensive public health background and dedication to improving healthcare systems made her appointment a significant milestone and testament to her expertise.
Under Dr. Etienne’s leadership, PAHO has implemented several major initiatives and policies to improve health outcomes and address key health issues in the Americas. One of the notable initiatives she championed is the “Plan of Action for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases,” which focuses on combating diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases. Recognizing the significant burden of noncommunicable diseases in the Americas, Dr. Etienne prioritized prevention and control measures to reduce the impact of these diseases on individuals and communities.
Dr. Etienne has also been instrumental in promoting universal health coverage and access to healthcare services for all. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, she launched the “Strategic Fund for Access to COVID-19 Vaccines,” which aims to ensure equitable access to vaccines for all countries in the region. This initiative plays a crucial role in addressing the disparities in vaccine distribution and ensuring that even the most marginalized populations have access to lifesaving vaccines.
Furthermore, Dr. Etienne has highlighted the importance of addressing the social determinants of health and reducing health inequities. She has emphasized the need for a comprehensive approach beyond healthcare services and addresses key factors such as poverty, education, and gender inequality. This approach reflects her commitment to ensuring that no one is left behind in the quest for better health outcomes.
Dr. Etienne’s impact on regional healthcare systems and her improvements in addressing key health issues in the Americas is evident through her numerous accolades and recognition. In 2020, she was honoured with the Woman of the Year in Public Health Award by the Women in Health Management Association of the Americas for her outstanding leadership and dedication to improving public health in the region. Her work has been widely recognized and celebrated by her peers and the global health community.
However, Dr. Etienne’s journey has been challenging. The scale and complexity of the health issues facing the Americas require innovative solutions and a collective effort from governments, organizations, and communities. Dr. Etienne has been leading these efforts, but the road to success is often met with obstacles and difficulties. Despite the challenges, Dr. Etienne’s determination and vision have enabled her to navigate these complexities and impact the region’s public health.
In conclusion, Dr. Carissa Etienne was a trailblazer in the field of public health, with a remarkable background and an extensive track record of achievements. Her role as the Director of PAHO allowed her to significantly impact regional healthcare systems and address key health issues in the Americas. Dr. Etienne championed the importance of prevention, equity, and universal health coverage through major initiatives and policies. Her dedication and leadership will continue to inspire and inform the global health community, driving us closer to a healthier and more equitable world. R.I.P Doctor Carissa Etienne