WASHINGTON –The Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, has called for strong coordination across countries as the Americas, including the Caribbean, deals with the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19).
“The past six months have shaken our world. The next six months will not be easier, and we cannot let our guard down,” Dr. Etienne said., adding “to endure, we must rely on our growing knowledge of this virus, our ability to apply these learnings in solidarity and our unwavering resolve.”
She said addressing the COVID-19 pandemic “requires strong coordination across countries, a deep understanding of epidemiological trends, clear guidance and a reliable supply of health products.
“These are all things that PAHO is actively doing to strengthen the response of our member states,” Dr. Etienne said, noting that cases in the Americas reached 5.9 million on Monday, with almost 267,000 deaths.
“Last week, there were 735,000 new cases in the region, with an average of over 100,000 cases reported every day,” the Dominican-born PAHO official said, adding that COVID-19 cases in the Americas continue to accelerate with new patterns emerging.
“Two months ago, the US accounted for 75 per cent of the COVID-19 cases in our region. This past week, the US reported just under half of cases in the region, while Latin America and the Caribbean registered more than 50 per cent of cases, and Brazil alone reported around a quarter of those.”
Dr. Etienne said the past six months have brought some “positive surprises that have confirmed the resilience of our health systems,” and some “unexpected challenges that we must address in the ensuing months”.
She said regional countries adopted preventive measures early on, set up emergency facilities very quickly and improved their systems to detect the virus.
“This unprecedented effort was instrumental in keeping cases low early in the pandemic, thus earning us precious time to prepare our health systems,” Dr. Etienne said, noting however there are several persistent challenges the region has to address to control the pandemic.
She said a top priority is protecting nurses, doctors and other vulnerable health workers with adequate personal protective equipment.
“Throughout the region we have received reports of health workers becoming ill in the line of duty because of lack of personal protective equipment or due to unsafe work conditions,” she said, stating that PAHO has provided guidance, training and Personal Protective Equipment to countries and continues to support them “to create better working conditions for frontline workers.”
“Stigma with COVID-19 slows down our response. We need people to feel safe and comfortable to speak up, and seek help when they have symptoms, so we are better able to trace contacts and isolate suspects early on,” Dr. Etienne said.
“This is our best hope for controlling the pandemic. Leaders across our region must let evidence guide their actions, focusing on what works and uniting their people around it. They have a responsibility to act transparently and proactively as they mobilize institutions in each nation to respond.
“Our teams at PAHO and WHO closely track new evidence, and translate it into country guidance documents Thus far, we’ve issued over 100. And each of us has a personal responsibility to protect ourselves and others through social distancing and by wearing masks when recommended.
“Even people without symptoms can transmit the virus, which means everyone should be cautious,” Dr. Etienne said,, adding “it also means that everyone can help us overcome this crisis”.