• Vulnerable groups

Countries should prepare to manage COVID-19 closely for the next 2 years

24 Jun 2020

Leadership, good data and strong health systems will be key to ensure effective response, PAHO Director says  

Washington, D.C., June 24, 2020 (PAHO) – The Director of the Pan American Health Organization, Carissa F. Etienne, said today that “in the absence of effective treatments or a widely available vaccine, we expect that over the next two years the Region of the Americas will experience recurring COVID-19 outbreaks, which may be interspersed with periods of limited transmission.”

In the face of a fast-changing pandemic, leadership will make or break our response. Now is the time for leaders to reach across political divisions and geographic borders to rally the support for a response commensurate to this unprecedented crisis.” 

Carissa F. Etienne

Cases of COVID-19 in the Americas have topped 4.5 million, with 226,000 deaths as of June 23. Since last month, cases have tripled in Latin America and the Caribbean from almost 690,000 in May 23, to more than 2 million today. “There is now widespread transmission in most of Central America. In South America this weekend, Brazil surpassed one million COVID-19 cases, joining the United States as the only other country in the world with cases in the six digits. The Caribbean is faring better but with hot-spots on the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, as well as within the Guyanese shield,” she said.

“We must be realistic about the future: all of us must adjust to a new way of life and redefine our sense of normal,” Etienne added.

Member States discussed this week in the PAHO Executive Committee a resolution that “seeks to balance the triple threat this pandemic represents to the health of our people, our social welfare and to our national economies.

PAHO’s director said countries must adjust and coordinate their COVID-19 response based on increasingly detailed data. “Governments will have to make decisions, considering simultaneously health, economic, and social indicators. This will allow health officials to understand where transmission is accelerating, and which groups are at greater risk so as to better target their efforts,” she added.  

Flexible responses are key, she noted. “Public health measures, as well as social protection efforts, will need to be reviewed regularly to minimize the impact of the virus in our societies. The provision of social, financial, and fiscal protection, especially in communities heavily dependent on informal economies is critical.”

“We will not overcome this crisis without addressing the needs of the most vulnerable: those most likely to fall sick and the least likely to receive care, such as indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants, the urban poor and migrant populations. If we neglect them, we run the risk of the next two years looking like the past few months,” PAHO’s director noted.

Dr. Etienne called to “prioritize early detection of suspect cases, laboratory testing, contact tracing and quarantine as the foundation of a targeted and sustainable strategy to control COVID-19,” noting that more investments in human resources, supplies, improved surveillance, and development and adoption of new tools will be needed.

“We must also continue to strengthen our health systems, which are our strongest defense against COVID-19 – today and in the future.  PAHO’s recommendation of public health expenditure benchmark of at least 6% of GDP is relevant now, more than ever. And from all public health investments, at least 30% should be allocated to the first level of care,” she added.

The PAHO Director said, “If we allocate resources to primary health clinics, hospitals and laboratories, grow our health workforce, invest in essential public health and expand our stockpiles and supplies, we can stay ahead of the pandemic and save lives.”

She called for concerted regional cooperation against COVID-19. “Though we rejoice when one country successfully flattens its COVID-19 epidemic curve, the risk of reemergence will always remain unless we flatten the curve regionally and globally.”