Regional: PAHO chief urges Caribbean to prepare to manage COVID-19 for next two years

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(CMC) — Director of the Pan American Health Organisation, Dr Carissa F Etienne is urging Caribbean countries as well as those in the Americas to prepare to manage the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic closely for the next two years.

“In the absence of effective treatments or a widely available vaccine, we expect that over the next two years the region of the Americas will experience recurring COVID-19 outbreaks, which may be interspersed with periods of limited transmission,” said the Dominican-born Dr Etienne.

“In the face of a fast-changing pandemic, leadership will make or break our response. Now is the time for leaders to reach across political divisions and geographic borders to rally the support for a response commensurate to this unprecedented crisis,” she added.

PAHO said cases of COVID-19 in the Americas have topped 4.5 million, with 226,000 deaths as of June 23. It said since last month, cases have tripled in Latin America and the Caribbean from almost 690,000 on May 23 to more than two million.

“There is now widespread transmission in most of Central America. In South America this weekend Brazil surpassed one million COVID-19 cases, joining the United States as the only other country in the world with cases in the six digits.

“The Caribbean is faring better,” Dr Etienne said, adding “but with hot spots on the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic as well as within the Guyanese shield we must be realistic about the future; all of us must adjust to a new way of life and redefine our sense of normal.”

PAHO said member states discussed a resolution that “seeks to balance the triple threat this pandemic represents to the health of our people, our social welfare and to our national economies”.

Dr Etienne urged countries to adjust and coordinate their COVID-19 response based on increasingly detailed data.

“Governments will have to make decisions, considering simultaneously health, economic, and social indicators. This will allow health officials to understand where transmission is accelerating and which groups are at greater risk, so as to better target their efforts.MORE IN HOME

Dr Etienne said flexible responses are key, stating that “public health measures, as well as social protection efforts, will need to be reviewed regularly to minimise the impact of the virus in our societies.

“The provision of social, financial, and fiscal protection, especially in communities heavily dependent on informal economies, is critical. We will not overcome this crisis without addressing the needs of the most vulnerable: those most likely to fall sick and the least likely to receive care, such as indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants, the urban poor and migrant populations.

“If we neglect them, we run the risk of the next two years looking like the past few months,” she said, calling for prioritisation of early detection of suspect cases, laboratory testing, contact tracing and quarantine “as the foundation of a targeted and sustainable strategy to control COVID-19”.

She said more investments in human resources, supplies, improved surveillance, and development and adoption of new tools will be needed.

“We must also continue to strengthen our health systems, which are our strongest defence against COVID-19 – today and in the future,” Dr Etienne said, adding that PAHO’s recommendation of a public health expenditure benchmark of at least six per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) is “relevant now, more than ever.

“And from all public health investments, at least 30 per cent should be allocated to the first level of care. If we allocate resources to primary health clinics, hospitals and laboratories; grow our health workforce; invest in essential public health and expand our stockpiles and supplies, we can stay ahead of the pandemic and save lives,” she said.

Dr Etienne also called for concerted regional cooperation against COVID-19.

“Though we rejoice when one country successfully flattens its COVID-19 epidemic curve, the risk of re-emergence will always remain unless we flatten the curve regionally and globally,” she said.

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