Wed | Jan 19, 2022

PAHO concerned about pace of COVID-19 infections in Americas

Published:Tuesday | June 9, 2020 | 2:36 PM

Christopher Serju, Senior Gleaner Writer

Director of the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for the Americas, Dr Carissa F Etienne, is raising an alarm that COVID-19 infections in the Americas are on the rise at a worrying pace.

Etienne disclosed that the Americas account for more than half the number of global infections, with 3.3 million cases of COVID-19.

“Unfortunately, many places are reporting exponential rises in cases and deaths and we are concerned by data showing that the virus is surging in new places, places that had seen a limited number of cases. In the Caribbean, cases are on the rise in Haiti, and after more than a month without a new case, Suriname reported a spike this past week,” she told a virtual media briefing on COVID-19 in the Americas today.

According to PAHO’s website, up to June 8, the number of cumulative positive cases in the Americas stood at 3,336,251, with cumulative recoveries at 1,206,231 and cumulative deaths at 183,950.

Among the countries of concern where the virus continues to spread aggressively are Brazil, Peru and Chile.

“We are also seeing in Venezuela that cases are now mounting faster than at any other point in the country’s outbreak,” Etienne reported.

“In Mesoamerica, case counts are rising in Mexico, Panama and in Costa Rica where we are seeing increased transmission around the Nicaraguan border.”

Noting that adherence to social distancing and stay-at-home orders have been challenging, Etienne pointed out that in the absence of a vaccine or more effective treatments, they are critical steps to keep persons safe during the pandemic.

“It is equally important for countries to test, treat, trace contacts and isolate patients. Without this combined approached our efforts will have limited impact and we face the risk of a rebound in cases,” she warned.

Climatic changes and COVID-19

It was noted that the Atlantic hurricane, which is now underway, and climatic conditions like the winter season will negatively impact the response and efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19.

“We must start planning now for a formidable challenge that could make our situation worse, that is the weather. In South America, our response to the pandemic will be impacted by the arrival of winter, while hurricane season will complicate our efforts in North and Central America and especially in the Caribbean.

“We don’t have data showing that humidity influence the spread of COVID-19 but we do know that winter fuels respiratory infections like seasonal influenza and pneumonia that can rapidly spread in colder climates as more people gather indoors to stay warm,” she said.

“This a problem for patients because respiratory illnesses leave them at greater risk of severe COVID-19 infection, creating a challenge for strained health systems which have to cope with the dual burden of the coronavirus pandemic and a spike in other respiratory illnesses. It does not help that the similar symptoms will make diagnosing COVID-19 even harder,” Etienne stressed.

“As countries strengthen surveillance for COVID-19, they must simultaneously monitor influenza cases. Early vaccination to prevent severe cases of flu is more critical than ever, particularly for high-risk groups like health workers, the elderly and people with chronic conditions. These same groups are also at high risk of coronavirus infection,” she added.

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