The Region of the Americas must intensify public health interventions on social distancing, limiting gatherings, wearing masks and hand washing to limit exposure to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pan American Health Organization Director Carissa F. Etienne said today.
“Our region, and our world, is failing to control coronavirus. In far too many places public policies are not congruent with the severity of the situation. And many of us have relaxed the control measures that we know work, which have helped us stay healthy and keep hospitals functional up to now,” she told a press briefing.
Etienne said, “I am particularly concerned for the next few weeks. Throughout our region, especially in North and South America, many hospitals are operating at or very close to capacity.” She cited high occupancy rates of intensive care units, oxygen shortages in some areas, and lack of capacity to cope with the speed of new infections due to the “sustained boom in cases.”
She noted that “In the last week we saw more than 2.5 million new cases of COVID-19 in the region of the Americas – more than half of all global infections. In the same period, 42,000 people from the Americas have lost their lives to the pandemic.”
“We must intensify public health interventions to limit exposure to this virus. Social distancing, limiting gatherings and the consistent use of masks in public settings and frequent hand washing are our absolute best hope for reducing the number of COVID-19 infections right now,” Etienne said.
Vaccines for COVID-19 will help save lives and “eventually halt the pandemic,” she said, “but we are also aware that there aren’t yet enough doses to achieve a visible impact on transmission at this point in the short term. Currently, the doses available for use are very limited and will remain in short supply everywhere.”
PAHO is working to help countries prepare to vaccinate their populations and is supporting the COVAX mechanism to make vaccines available in all countries in the Americas, she said. The PAHO Revolving Fund “will play a key role in this process,” helping the countries acquire vaccines, syringes, cold chain equipment and other supplies for vaccine delivery.
National vaccine deployment plans have been prepared by 18 countries, and 23 countries have completed a Vaccine Readiness Assessment, Etienne explained.
“For PAHO, a successful vaccine introduction must not simply be measured by its timeline but through the lens of fairness. We must not let vaccination campaigns fracture along the lines of inequity that have marked the health of our region,” she said.
“Vaccine rollouts should prioritize those at risk – like the health workers at the frontlines of our response, the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions. They should also prioritize disenfranchised populations that often struggle to access the care they need,” Etienne added.