The director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr. Carissa F. Etienne on Wednesday warned that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic response in Haiti must be scaled up dramatically to cope with sharply escalating cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in recent weeks.
“We call on partners and organizations working in Haiti to urgently reinforce the response to COVID-19,” Dr. Etienne told reporters at her weekly news conference.
“The country will need additional health capacity, as well as support to embrace preventive measures required to curb transmission. Both will be decisive in the coming weeks. There is no time to waste.”
PAHO said it is working with Haiti’s Ministry of Public Health and Population to scale up care for infected people and increase supplies of protective equipment for health workers. It is also collaborating to reduce transmission through increased testing, which allows for identification and quarantine of infected people.
PAHO said it also facilitate the upcoming delivery of the first doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to Haiti. The vaccines were procured through COVAX, the global alliance to ensure equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
“A very high priority is to offer vaccination to all frontline health workers over 18 years of age,” Dr. Etienne said, explaining that the increased transmission is likely fuelled by two variants of concern, (B 1.1.7 and P1) and because public health measures are “being largely ignored by the general population.
“The situation we’re seeing in Haiti is a cautionary tale in just how quickly things can change with this virus,” the Dominican-born PAHO director said.
Dr. Etienne said that access to vaccines urgently needs to increase in Haiti and the rest of the Caribbean. COVAX has already delivered 17.6 million doses to the region, but the quantity is not nearly enough. She said some low-income countries are struggling to cover even their health workers and most vulnerable populations.
“Effective vaccines are a beacon of hope in this crisis, and we must do all in our power to secure more doses for all nations in the Americas. Regional solidarity, including the donation of vaccine doses, will be key to get us through the current shortage of supply.”
Dr. Etienne said that everyone must adhere to public health measures such as wearing masks, social distancing, and washing hands. Increased mobility between and within countries and relaxation of the measures have created the “perfect environment” for the spread of the virus and its variants.
“PAHO is doing and will continue to do its part to support the response to the pandemic in the Americas, grounded in science and solidarity. But we can’t do this alone. We need leaders to prioritize the decisions required to stop this virus in its track.”
Many Caribbean islands, including Sint Maarten, Trinidad and Tobago and the Dominican Republic, are reporting a surge in infections. Over the last week, countries in the Americas reported 1.1 million new COVID-19 cases and over 25,000 deaths.