Hospital oxygen supplies are being pushed to the brink across the Eastern Caribbean, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) has warned, as a wave of the highly infectious Delta COVID-19 variant causes more deaths and infection rates soar to record levels largely among the unvaccinated.
Expressing concern over the burden on regional health care systems in its latest report, PAHO cited that St Lucia’s health system was struggling with oxygen supply after hospitalizations rose by 214 per cent in the last seven days.
It also noted that insufficient oxygen supplies have been affecting health systems in Grenada, Dominica, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
It added: “the hospitalization rate increased significantly in the range of 37 per cent in Barbados to 1700 per cent in Grenada in the same period.”
Dominica, however, recorded a 13 per cent decline in cases, it said.
Nearly 8,000 confirmed new COVID-19 cases have been reported over the last three weeks of September 2021 with a 52 per cent increase from 4,231 cases in the month of August 2021 from Barbados and six Eastern Caribbean countries – Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), PAHO said.
Between 83 per cent and 95 per cent of unvaccinated people account for the rise in infections, according to the western hemisphere’s regional office of the World Health Organisation.
But PAHO has begun to focus its concern on the high number of cases among children up to age 18 years old, with 15-25 per cent of children under the age 18 accounting for new reported cases, “driven by the highly transmissible Delta variant of concern”.
Over the past week, new COVID-19 cases in St Vincent has topped EC countries, followed by St Lucia and Antigua and Barbuda.
PAHO said: “In the last seven days the increase in the number of cases is led by Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (231.8 per cent representing 282 new cases), and Saint Lucia (36.2 per cent, 872) and Antigua and Barbuda (74.2 per cent).”
The COVID-19 test positivity rate, which compares the number of positive results from daily test figures, ranges from 10 per cent in Barbados to 24 per cent in Saint Lucia, as of September 22.
The health agency warned: “This high level of positivity rate suggests that the real number of infected people is higher than what we are seeing.
“The COVID-19 deaths and seven-day moving average continued to increase in new deaths resulting in a 78 per cent increase in Saint Lucia and an average five deaths per day as of September 16. Grenada is also reporting an increase of 25.9 per cent regarding the number of deaths (26 new deaths) and a 300 per cent increase in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.”
Dr. Yitades Gebre, PAHO Representative for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean said: “We are observing a situation of community transmission with limited additional capacity to respond and a risk of health services becoming overwhelmed.”
He called for “a larger combination of measures to limit transmission, manage cases, and ensure epidemic control, warning that the “current epidemiological situation may continue unless stringent measures are in place”.
PAHO also stressed it was critical for countries to take urgent action to limit transmission to reduce the risk of the emergence of COVID-19 variants.
It said: “Variants of concern are known to spread more easily, cause more severe disease, escape the body’s immune response, change clinical presentation, or decrease effectiveness of known tools – public health measures, diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines.
“A particular focus should be on prevention and early detection of potential superspreading events. Individuals are encouraged to accept COVID-19 vaccination when offered and practice preventive measures such as wearing masks in public places, frequent hand hygiene, keeping physical distancing and to avoid crowded spaces.”
PAHO gave an assurance it would continue to provide test kits and other laboratory supplies, oxygen concentrators and Information Technology equipment to the region’s health care systems.
Emergency medical teams have been also deployed from Mexico and Spain to Grenada and Dominica respectively, it said.