The head of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) said today she was “deeply concerned” that the coronavirus pandemic is spreading rapidly in the Americas.
And Dr Carissa Etienne called on the region to tackle multiple emergencies at once.
“The pandemic has forced us to address three emergencies at the same time: health, social and economic emergencies. To be successful, we need a joint approach,” she told a press briefing. “Countries must support their economies while building strong social protection networks and embracing evidence-based public health measures that are essential to saving lives.
“It took our region three months to reach one million cases, but less than three weeks to nearly double that number.”
More than 1.74 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the Americas, with over 104,000 deaths.
PAHO said the need to control the pandemic is urgent, given that in the past week, there was a relative 18 per cent increase in cases and a 23 per cent relative increase in deaths, compared to the previous week. Between May 4 and May 11, more than 96,000 additional cases including 5,552 deaths were reported in South America. That represents a 45 per cent relative increase in cases and a 51 per cent relative increase in deaths, compared to the previous week.
The PAHO chief said the agency continues to coordinate the region’s response to the pandemic, but she called on national and local health authorities to “work even more closely together to contain the spread of the virus and support health system capacity.”
The PAHO chief also expressed concern about increases in unemployment which she said have pushed millions of families into poverty.
She said: “While we remain in this dangerous stage of the pandemic, financial resources are needed to help people cope with the economic impacts of staying at home or being out of work. This is vital to keeping the virus in check and reducing the duration of this crisis in each country.
“Heads of State and Ministers of Health and Finance all face the same dilemma: how to keep their people safe while also protecting the livelihoods of families and communities. It’s a difficult balance to strike but not an impossible one.”
Dr Etienne announced that the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and PAHO are to jointly devise a new model where resilient health systems and universal health coverage are viewed as key to economic growth and social protection.
“Only when countries have controlled transmission will they be in a position to implement a well-planned, cautious transition period,” Dr Etienne said. PAHO is working closely with the IMF, the IDB, the World Bank, and others to help coordinate the economic response to the pandemic, she noted.
“COVID-19 reminds us that when we invest in health systems, we keep our people safe and our economies strong. When we guarantee access to health services for everyone, we reduce inequality and build more resilient societies,” she added.
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