Now or never! PAHO’s warning about COVID-19 that could save lives in America
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) sent a forceful message to the governments of the American continent, warning that the time to slow down the spread of the pandemic caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus is now
On March 31, Carissa F. Etienne, director of PAHO, offered a press conference from the agency’s headquarters in Washington, United States, where she made an urgent call for the competent authorities of the countries to take measures that guarantee that the spread of the virus does not wreak even more deadly havoc in the region than it has already caused.
Etienne highlighted that since the first case occurred in China, in December 2019, until March 31, 2020, three months later, in America 188,949 confirmed cases have been reported with the unfortunate number of 3,561 people who lost their lives.
The maximum PAHO representative warns that the time to slow down the spread of COVID-19 is shortening in the Americas and, in view of this, countries must act now, with drastic measures that allow the virulence of the disease doesn’t get out of control.
To slow down infections, Etienne urges authorities and governments to “take urgent measures to guarantee the hospital space, beds, health personnel and medical equipment necessary to cope with the possible influx of people with the disease.”
Etienne’s warning comes as many countries in the Americas report cases of community transmission of COVID-19, that is, that the virus is already within the common population and is not exclusive to travellers.
“There is still a short period to slow the spread of the virus, reduce the impact on health systems and save lives,” she stressed.
Etienne maintains that this moment is critical, because as it has happened in other regions of the world, the pandemic is expected to have an exponential rebound in cases and increase disproportionately, which would bring an unsustainable health crisis for many countries on the continent if they don’t make forecasts on time.
“The countries of the region must take urgent measures to prepare hospitals and health centres for what is to come: an influx of patients with COVID-19 who will need hospital space, beds, health professionals and medical equipment. This virus has not been and will not be stopped by the borders drawn on the maps, “said Etienne.
Prepare for more serious consequences of COVID-19
The Director of PAHO stressed that countries must also protect their health personnel like never before. This includes training on how to avoid infection and access to adequate supplies and personal protective equipment.
“It is our duty to protect and care for them, as they will be on the front line of this battle,” she said.
It is also vital that countries decide which distancing measures should be put in place, how and for how long.
This is the only way to avoid being overwhelmed by too many sick people in a very short period of time.
Based on the experience of countries in other regions, Dra Etienne pointed out that “it seems reasonable to plan these measures so that they last two or three months at least”.
“Without solid evidence on effective treatments and without available vaccines, social distancing and other strong preventive measures continue to be our best bet to prevent the most serious consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic in our Region,” she considered.
Solidarity: The only way to deal with the pandemic
For Etienne, it is essential that the region demonstrates at this time “a bold and compassionate leadership” that puts solidarity first and foremost.
“This moment demands that there be bold and compassionate leadership. It will not be easy, and we know that we will be asking people to adapt to an extraordinary situation that is having an impact on all aspects of their lives. But let me emphasize that this pandemic is serious and we need to do everything in our power to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on our population, “said Dra Etienne.
The Director of PAHO emphasized the need for countries to work together: share resources and experiences, and make joint decisions that accelerate access to health services, promote research and innovation.
She also stressed that PAHO will continue to facilitate exchange between countries and will work intensively with Member States, particularly those with weaker health systems, to strengthen surveillance and early detection of cases and ensure the preparation of health services.
“Solidarity in our Region has never had a deeper meaning than today. The only way out of this situation will be if everyone does their part, while supporting the others, “reflected Dra Etienne.
CELAC: A necessary space required
Recently, the former president of Costa Rica, Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera, who was also Pro-Tempore President of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), wrote an article about the need to reactivate this important block to face the health crisis in the continent.
“Reactivating CELAC” is the article written by Solís Rivera and published in NODAL, where the ex-president explains the reason why the current situation such as the one the world is experiencing as a result of the pandemic caused by the 2019 coronavirus outbreak and that, specifically in Latin America and the Caribbean, has been rebounding in the number of infections.
“In times of health crisis, this may not seem like a priority for the states of the subcontinent. However, a more leisurely reading would find in this a favourable juncture to relaunch the only regional forum where the Countries, (States), of the area have the geo-politically determined areas and territories to propose and manage an agenda focused on their own visions and priorities, ”explains Solís.
Recently, the President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, warned that the region must put aside political and ideological differences and unite to jointly face the pandemic, especially with regard to the preventive measures to be taken to lower the high levels of contagion with a virus that is highly contagious and has characteristics that practically make it invisible during the first two weeks of infection, as it is asymptomatic, which opens a gap of possible contagions that is triggered exponentially.
In fact, there are very few countries in the American continent that keep the numbers of infections with a flat curve, that is, they have been able to control the virulence of the outbreak.
Among them, Cuba, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Venezuela, countries that in time decided to apply collective quarantine and social distancing measures; unlike the rest of the countries that decided not to apply it and now suffer high numbers of infections and deaths from COVID-19.
Given this situation and PAHO’s urgent appeal, Solís’ analysis makes more sense, since CELAC – based on its own foundational values - becomes the ideal space to carry out the task of dialogue, understanding and solution of conflicts in common, at the highest level.
CELAC, Solís explains, needs to provide Latin America and the Caribbean with an environment where political dialogue is capable of overcoming particular visions, putting collective hemispheric well-being before existing conflicts, the resolution of which should not impede joint work in favour of people and their basic needs.