PAHO director urges countries to target communities hard hit by COVID-19Wednesday, August 04, 2021
WASHINGTON, United States (CMC)— The director of the Pan American Health Organization, (PAHO), Dr Carissa F Etienne Wednesday said that 617,000 indigenous people have been infected with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the Americas and urged countries to prioritise the hard-hit communities.
“It's likely that many more have been infected, but we may not know it because they have struggled to get the COVID care they deserve,” she said during her weekly media briefing, adding that “nearly 15,000 (indigenous people) have died from COVID complications since the start of the pandemic”.
PAHO said that the statistics are based on data from several countries and in advance of International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples on August 9, Etienne noted that the pandemic has exacerbated inequalities in the Americas.
He said that most indigenous peoples lack the financial and social safety nets to ensure they can continue to provide for their families and communities, even when they're sick.
“Many of our indigenous peoples live in remote and isolated areas where a clinic or a doctor may be many kilometres or days away. Even those who live in urban centres still face invisible barriers, like language, stigma, and poverty, that can keep health care out of reach,” the Dominican-born senior PAHO official said.
She said countries should engage indigenous groups in the COVID-19 response and ensure that health workers are sensitive to the needs and languages of indigenous communities, and “respect the tradition of ancestral medicine still practiced by many of our indigenous peoples”.
Etienne said that 17 countries in the Americas have listed indigenous peoples as a priority group for COVID vaccinations and vaccination campaigns are underway in those and other countries.
“So far, more than 134,000 indigenous people have been fully vaccinated across Guatemala and more than 312,000 have completed their COVID-19 vaccinations in Brazil. But we don't have data from every country,” Etienne said.
She told reporters that regarding the pandemic situation in the Americas more than 1.2 million COVID-19 cases and 20,000 COVID-related deaths were reported over the last week.
She said COVID-19 infections are accelerating in North America, “driven primarily by a surge in cases in the southern and eastern United States and in central Mexico”.
Cases are rising in the Caribbean and dropping across South America, although some Brazilian states have seen an increase in infections.
“This underscores that, until we effectively contain transmission, infections can surge quickly. So, masks, social distancing and other public health measures remain crucial,” Etienne said.
She marked the “grim pandemic milestone” of two million deaths from COVID-19 in the Americas, calling the number “a distressing reminder that we must act urgently to prevent further suffering” and reiterating her plea for more vaccines for the Americas.
“Today, vaccines, which are a beacon of hope to control this pandemic, remain out of reach for far too many people in the Americas. Just 18 per cent of people in Latin America and the Caribbean have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19,” Etienne said.
Etienne said that the best way to stop the Delta variant of the virus “is to reinforce public health measures including appropriate use of masks, social distancing, isolation of patients, quarantine of contacts, and vaccination”.
Meanwhile, the PAHO deputy director, Dr Jarbas Barbosa, is recommending that people do not wait for particular brands of COVID-19 vaccines, but should get the one that is available as soon as possible.
He told reporters that all approved vaccines, even emergency ones, contribute to saving lives.
“Choosing the vaccine is a double risk and it is not possible to make that decision, due to misinformation. The vaccines all have phase III studies and if it is World Health Organization (WHO)-approved and available, it is the best,” he said, adding that the WHO has a large team around the world doing studies to determine protection levels.
“At the beginning there was talk of 75 per cent, but there is analysis that indicates with the new variants, we must have at least 90 per cent of the population vaccinated. We still do not have evidence a third dose of vaccines can be recommended, so countries must follow the guidelines we have so far,” Barbosa said, adding that communication within countries is key to establish recommendations and improve national immunisation plans.
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