Sat | Sep 19, 2020

COVID-19 is unrelenting – PAHO boss

Published:Wednesday | August 19, 2020 | 12:19 AMChristopher Serju/Senior Gleaner Writer

Coronavirus cases in the Americas have reached almost 11.5 million and over 400,000 deaths, an indication that the region continues to carry the heaviest burden of the coronavirus disease globally. With 55 per cent of the new cases reported in the past week, the Americas have approximately 13 per cent of the world’s population but 64 per cent of the officially reported global deaths so far.

This disclosure was made on Tuesday by Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr Carissa Etienne, during its weekly virtual press update on the COVID-19 pandemic.

She also disclosed that while the biggest drivers of the case counts are United States of America and Brazil, we are now seeing an increasing trend in parts of the region that had remained stable for multiple weeks, such as the Caribbean.

“Even though a few locations have reported lower numbers, after being hit hard, several countries are reinforcing public health measures in areas that are facing a rise in new infections, such as Peru, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, The Bahamas, and Trinidad and Tobago.

“This virus is unrelenting, and requires the same from us. We must stay vigilant and keep transmission under control. The coronavirus is not only impacting our health, it’s also affecting our well-being. We have been pushed to extraordinary lengths, and over the last few months many of us have felt fearful of the infection or anxiety if we are sick,” Dr Etienne noted.

The public health expert said mental health within the region is also being adversely affected.

“We may have been overwhelmed by the news and the misinformation, and many of us are lonely or isolated after weeks or even months of social distancing, and while we may be dealing with this stress differently, we are all suffering, especially those affected by pre-existing mental health conditions.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a mental health crisis in our region at a scale that we have never seen before. It is urgent that mental health support is considered a critical component of the pandemic response,” she warned.

Dr Etienne pointed out that mental health illness was a silent epidemic affecting the region well before COVID-19, a situation which is being made worse as people opt for the wrong coping strategies.

“We are also home to the second-highest levels of alcohol consumption in the world and emergencies can worsen these conditions. Surveys from the three regions that are most impacted by COVID-19, the United States, Brazil and Mexico, show that about half of adults are stressed by the pandemic; and earlier data show that many are coping by using drugs and alcohol, which can create a vicious cycle that makes people more prone to, and can exacerbate, mental health issues.”

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com