(CMC)—Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Dr Carissa F Etienne has called for accelerated and expanded testing for the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in countries of the Americas, including the Caribbean.
“We need a clearer view of where the virus is circulating and how many people have been infected in order to guide our actions,” said Etienne during a virtual press briefing on Tuesday.
“The pandemic continues to impact our region, and it’s vital for all countries to actively embrace preventive measures, while preparing for more cases, hospitalisations and deaths,” she added.
As of April 20, there have been 839,119 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 42,686 people have died in the Americas.
The PAHO director said that countries have been prepared to test and detect cases of COVID-19 since before the pandemic was declared.
Since February, PAHO said it had trained and equipped laboratories for testing in more than 30 countries.
But, as cases have increased, Etienne said countries have found it increasingly difficult to keep up.
She highlighted PAHO’s recommendations for countries to expand their capacity and use all available national laboratories to prioritise patients with symptoms, tracing contacts and following up with those that may be infected; and to ensure access for all so testing would be free of charge for patients.
PAHO said it has provided more than 500,000 test kits to 34 countries and territories, “and we have worked with other countries to track and support their capacity”, said Etienne.
An additional 1.5 million tests kits are being dispatched throughout the region this week, “followed by another 3 million next week to strengthen laboratory surveillance networks in our member states”, she highlighted.
“To address the market shortage, we are working with leading manufacturers to make these tests available through the PAHO Strategic Fund,” Etienne said. “Twelve countries are now using this mechanism to purchase quality commercial PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests.
“As we negotiate other options, we are considering tests that run on both open and on so-called closed platforms, to maximise each country’s ability to test,” she added.
To help ensure countries procure reliable products, Etienne said PAHO is providing guidance to regulatory and health authorities, and is calling on manufacturers “to work closely with us so that we can ensure equitable access to new quality tests, as they reach the market so all our countries can benefit from innovations”.
Global access to medicines, vaccines, and medical equipment to respond to COVID 19 “should not be a privilege of certain countries or communities”, she said.
“Our collective goal must be to ensure that access to the testing, treatment, vaccines and other technologies is available to all based on needs.”