WASHINGTON – The director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr. Carissa Etienne Tuesday said that health services are being disrupted in Caribbean and other countries of the Americas as health workers are redirected to care for COVID-19 patients.
She is also warning that people hesitate to seek routine care due to fears of infection, and global supply chains of medicines and equipment are strained.
“Without doctors and nurses available to offer other essential services at the first level of care – including pregnancy-related care, and management of chronic conditions like diabetes or infectious diseases such as HIV, TB and malaria – these services are severely disrupted or worse yet, halted entirely,” she said.
Dr. Etienne said that the region “remains under the tight grip of this pandemic (and) as of August 3, the Americas had over 9.7 million cases and over 365,000 deaths – and these numbers continue to rise.
“More than a quarter of countries have suspended routine vaccination campaigns,” and “weeks or months of disruption will increase the risk of outbreaks of vaccine-preventable disease, reversing our longstanding trends in the Region,” she noted.
The PAHO official noted that in 27 countries, half of the diabetes and hypertension programmes at primary care level have been halted, a survey showed, and pregnancy related visits have dropped by 40 per cent.
She said currently, 11 countries within the Americas have less than three-month supply of antiretrovirals, adding “if these are not replenished soon, people living with HIV may have to interrupt their treatment. Running out of these supplies is simply not an option”.
The Dominican-born PAHO official said that a prolonged response to this pandemic must include provision of other essential life-saving services.
“Countries must avoid thinking that they must make a choice, a choice between reopening economies and protecting the health and well-being of their people.”
PAHO is calling on countries to adapt to this new situation to “reengineer how essential care is delivered and invest in the first level of care,” using telemedicine, home visits, and community outreach programs to support vulnerable populations.”
At the same time, they must also mitigate the effects of COVID-19.
“This is not an either/or choice – rather Governments must strike that careful balance for public health,” Dr. Etienne said.
“Countries can respond to COVID-19 by providing testing and contact tracing, while also offering other essential services like immunizations and mental health support. An integrated approach saves patients’ time and resources while improving the quality of care they receive.
“Primary health care investments also improve efficiency, reduce health care costs, and enable hospitals and communities to expand capacity in other areas of care.”
“As we continue on this path toward universal health, we must ensure our health systems are resilient, and that they have the resources, the supplies and health workers they need to fight a pandemic, while also keeping people healthy and protected from other diseases,” Dr. Etienne added.