• Press Conference, March 31, 2020

Time is of the essence – Countries of the Americas must act now to slow the spread of COVID-19

31 Mar 2020

PAHO Director calls for urgent action to ensure hospital space, beds, health professionals and medical equipment to cope with the coming influx of coronavirus disease 2019

Washington, DC, March 31, 2020 (PAHO) – With many countries of the Americas now reporting community transmission of COVID-19, there is still a short window of time for governments to slow the spread of the virus, reduce the impact on health systems and save lives, said the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director, Carissa F. Etienne, during a media briefing today.

As of 31 March 2020, three months after the first case of COVID-19 was reported in China, there have been 188,949 confirmed cases in the Americas and 3,561 people have lost their lives.

As has been seen in other regions of the world, cases are expected to escalate in the Region of the Americas. Countries must take urgent action to prepare hospitals and health facilities for what is coming: an influx of COVID-19 patients that will need hospital space, beds, health professionals and medical equipment. “This virus has not and will not be stopped by borders drawn on maps,” said Dr. Etienne.

Dr. Etienne highlighted that countries must also protect their health personnel as never before. This includes training on how to avoid infections and access to adequate supplies of protective equipment. “It is our duty to protect them and care for them, as they will be on the frontlines of this battle,” she said.

It is also vital that countries decide what social distancing measures need to be implemented and for how long. These are the only way to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed by too many sick people in too short a time. Based on the experience of countries in other regions, Dr. Etienne highlighted that “it seems prudent to plan for the implementation of measures for, at least, two to three months.” 

Without solid evidence on effective treatments and no available vaccine at hand, social distancing and other aggressive preventative measures remain our best bet to prevent the most severe consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic in our region.  Dr. Etienne suggested that “This moment demands bold and compassionate leadership.”

“It will not be easy, and we know we will be asking people to adapt to an extraordinary situation that is impacting everything in their lives. But let me emphasize: this pandemic is serious, and we need to do everything in our power to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on our people."

The PAHO Director highlighted the solidarity of the region and the need to continue sharing resources, expertise and joint decisions to accelerate access to health services, research and innovation. She also emphasized that PAHO will continue to facilitate exchange between countries, and to work intensively with Member States, particularly those with the weakest health systems, to strengthen surveillance and early detection of cases and on ensuring health service preparedness. 

Dr. Etienne stated, “solidarity in our region has never had deeper meaning than it does today. The only way out of this situation will be if everyone does his/her part, while supporting others.”