Washington, DC — The Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Carissa F. Etienne called for accelerated and expanded testing for COVID-19 in countries of the Americas. “We need a clearer view of where the virus is circulating and how many people have been infected in order to guide our actions,” she said.
Speaking at a virtual press briefing, Dr. Etienne said, “The pandemic continues to impact our region, and it’s vital for all countries to actively embrace preventive measures, while preparing for more cases, hospitalizations and deaths.”
As of April 20, there have been 839,119 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 42,686 people have died in the Region of the Americas.
The PAHO Director said that countries have been prepared to test and detect cases of COVID-19 since before the pandemic was declared. Since February, PAHO had trained and equipped laboratories for PCR testing in more than 30 countries. But as cases have increased, countries have found it increasingly difficult to keep up, she noted.
Dr. Etienne highlighted PAHO’s recommendations for countries: to expand their capacity and use all available national laboratories; to prioritize patients with symptoms, tracing contacts and following up with those that may be infected; and to ensure access for all so testing would be free of charge for patients.
PAHO has provided more than 500,000 PCR tests to 34 countries and territories, “and we have worked with other countries to track and support their capacity,” Dr. Etienne said
An additional 1.5 million PCR tests are being dispatched throughout the Region this week, “followed by another 3 million next week to strengthen laboratory surveillance networks in our member states,” she highlighted.
“To address the market shortage, we are working with leading manufacturers to make these tests available through the PAHO Strategic Fund. Twelve countries are now using this mechanism to purchase quality commercial PCR-based tests. As we negotiate other options, we are considering tests that run on both open and on so-called closed platforms, to maximize each country’s ability to test,” Dr. Etienne said.
To help ensure countries procure reliable products, PAHO is providing guidance to regulatory and health authorities, and is calling on manufacturers “to work closely with us so that we can ensure equitable access to new quality tests, as they reach the market so all our countries can benefit from innovations.”
Global access to medicines, vaccines, and medical equipment to respond to COVID 19 “should not be a privilege of certain countries or communities. Our collective goal must be to ensure that access to the testing, treatment, vaccines and other technologies is available to all based on needs,” Dr. Etienne added.