Sat | Dec 5, 2020

Misinformation a great threat to health of region, says PAHO director

Published:Thursday | October 22, 2020 | 2:24 PMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer
A healthcare worker gives leaflets with COVID-19 information to a resident of Waterford in Portmore, St Catherine, earlier this month as part of intervention measures following a spike in cases there.
A healthcare worker gives leaflets with COVID-19 information to a resident of Waterford in Portmore, St Catherine, earlier this month as part of intervention measures following a spike in cases there.
PAHA Director Dr Carissa Etienne.
PAHA Director Dr Carissa Etienne.
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Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Dr Carissa Etienne has issued an appeal to member states to “prioritise a transparent and proactive” communications approach for COVID-19.

“The people of our region crave clear guidance. Communicating effectively and consistently about what they can do to protect themselves and to avoid infection remains vital. It’s as important now as it was in April and it will be even more important once we have a vaccine,” she said in a media briefing on COVID-19 in the Americas yesterday.

Eleven vaccines are now in the third and final stage of clinical trials and the director sought to reassure the public that vaccines will not be made available until they pass through the usual regulatory approval process.

“Even after a vaccine is approved, countries around the world will monitor its safety and effectiveness over time, as they do with every other vaccine on the market today,” she reasoned.

Etienne pointed out that efforts to develop a vaccine in the shortest possible time has resulted in the “unprecedented attention” on the vaccine development process and an “overabundance” of information from countless sources, some of which are unreliable.

“Misinformation is a grave threat to the health of our region. Insidious rumours and conspiracy theories can disrupt vaccination efforts and imperil our COVID-19 response, costing lives. How we communicate about COVID-19 vaccines will make or break each country’s ability to control the pandemic,” she said.

Meanwhile, the PAHO director is urging stakeholders to continue to fight COVID-19 with the best strategies available – effective surveillance and sound public health measures.

Etienne explained that resurgence in cases in many countries underscore that fighting the pandemic is not a one-time effort.

Using Grenada as an example, she said the country reported its first new case in three months, coinciding with a reopening of its borders.

“It requires a sustained response even in places where transmission is down. We must keep it up. The pandemic is not behind us and the threat of new cases remains active everywhere, and that’s why countries must remain in control of the virus while we await the arrival of a safe and effective vaccine,” the director advised.

judana.murphy@gleanerjm.com