(CMC) — The director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr Carissa F Etienne, is urging countries in the region to be fully prepared for the hurricane season, saying it is critical to mitigate the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the Americas.
PAHO said that there are more than 3.3 million cases of COVID-19 in the Americas, including the Caribbean region with many areas such as Haiti reporting exponential rises in cases and deaths.
“We are concerned by data showing the virus surging in new places that had previously seen a limited number of cases,” she said adding that in South America, the response to the pandemic will be impacted by the arrival of winter, while hurricane season will complicate the efforts in North and Central America, and especially in the Caribbean.
The Dominican-born PAHO director said with winter now starting in South America, it “fuels respiratory infections — like seasonal influenza and pneumonia — that can rapidly spread in colder climates and as more people gather indoors to stay warm.
“This is a problem for patients because respiratory illnesses leave them at greater risk of severe COVID-19 infection. It’s also a challenge for strained health systems that will have to cope with the dual burden of a coronavirus pandemic and a spike in other respiratory illnesses.
“It does not help that the similar symptoms will make diagnosing COVID-19 even harder,” she said, adding that influenza vaccination “to prevent severe cases of flu is more critical than ever, particularly for high-risk groups like health workers, the elderly and people with chronic conditions.
“These same groups are also at high-risk of coronavirus infection,” she noted.
PAHO said seasonal influenza vaccination is ongoing in 14 countries, and more than 90 million people are being targeted.
PAHO said it is helping countries buy vaccines through its Revolving Fund.
“The fund helped secure 24 million flu vaccine doses, despite the added logistical hurdles that we’re all facing in transporting essential supplies during the pandemic,” Dr Etienne said.
She said with the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane season now on, officials in the Caribbean, Central America and the East coast of the US should “review national hurricane response plans and conduct simulation exercises to ensure your disaster and COVID-19 responses are aligned.
“We should also plan for potential disruptions to the care of critically ill patients and refine evacuation plans,” she said, adding that PAHO is working to provide emergency response supplies throughout the region, and “to secure critical facilities like laboratories, and quarantine and isolation centres so diagnosis and treatment for COVID-19 can continue even under difficult circumstances.
“We must take action today to safeguard our progress and mitigate the spread of the virus during this time. That means redoubling our efforts to control the spread of COVID-19, so that we reduce the dual burden the approaching winter and hurricane seasons might bring.”