PAHO: COVID-19 developments make continuing public health measures in Caribbean urgent

PAHO: COVID-19 developments make continuing public health measures in Caribbean urgent

Saturday, January 16, 2021

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WASHINGTON, DC, United States (CMC) – Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Dr Carissa F Etienne said on Thursday that the appearance of new variants of the COVID-19 virus in several countries of the Americas, including the Caribbean, combined with an acceleration in the virus's spread in virtually every country in the Americas, makes it urgent to continue public health measures such as social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands often.

“Our collective ability to keep up with these measures has the power to determine the trajectory of this year,” Dr Etienne said. “If we remain diligent, we have the power to control this virus; if we relax, make no mistake: 2021 could well be far worse than 2020.”

She said that since the start of this pandemic, more than 39 million people across the Americas have become infected by COVID-19 and over 925,000 of them have succumbed to the virus.

In the last week alone, Dr Etienne said 2.5 million people were infected with COVID-19 in the region – “the highest weekly cases since the virus first reached our shores.”

The director said PAHO's genomics surveillance network of 21 laboratories has been tracking the spread of the virus and mutations, stating that the variant first seen circulating in the United Kingdom has now been reported in eight countries: Brazil, Canada, Chile, Ecuador, Jamaica, Mexico, Peru, and the USA.

In addition, Etienne said Brazil and Canada have reported seeing another variant that was first reported in South Africa.

“At this time, there is no evidence to suggest that these variants affect patients differently, but early data does suggest that the virus can spread more easily, accelerating the threat to our health systems at a time in which they are already close to capacity,” Dr Etienne said.

She said one vaccine has been approved by the World Health Organization (WHO), adding that more are under way.

Dr Etienne said some countries in the region have started vaccinating health workers and vulnerable groups, but “as long as doses remain limited, we can't rely on vaccinations to flatten the pandemic curve”.

She said PAHO's priorities in 2021 include ensuring equitable access to protective equipment for health workers, medications and hospital care when required, and vaccines.

“With the arrival of vaccines, we must ensure not just that doses are produced quickly, but that they're equitably delivered and swiftly across every country – regardless of income,” Dr Etienne said. “This will require global and regional collaboration and solidarity, with donors pitching in resources through mechanisms like the COVAX Facility.”

She said PAHO is working with all countries in the Americas to help secure the vaccine doses that countries need to protect their populations.

In addition, Etienne said PAHO is providing support with vaccine demand planning, logistics and cold chain management, surveillance and information system strengthening, health worker training, and vaccine communication planning, among others.

“Luckily, our region has a strong legacy of immunisation,” she emphasised, noting that through PAHO's Revolving Fund, “member states pool their national resources to procure vaccines and related products at the lowest price. COVID will be a challenge, but one I believe that we can meet by working together,” Dr Etienne said.

In the year ahead, she noted that political leaders “will face difficult choices as we work to flatten the transmission curve. “And that's why we need leaders to act transparently, so that the public understands their decisions, and the scientific evidence that is behind those decisions, so we can rally people around a shared plan,” the PAHO director said.


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