(CMC) — The Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Dr Carissa F Etienne says that transmission of COVID-19 in the Americas, including the Caribbean, remains very active, with some countries suffering recurrent spikes in cases and the virus spreading in new and different ways.
“While Brazil and the US remain significant drivers of new cases in our region, we’re concerned by spikes in cases — including places that had effectively managed outbreaks, like Cuba and Jamaica,” said the director during a news briefing on Wednesday.
“In fact, over the past 60 days, 11 countries and territories in the Caribbean have moved from moderate to intense transmission, which is a concerning development as countries reopen airspace,” Dr Etienne added.
She said over 17 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the Americas, with more than 574,000 deaths, representing half of all cases worldwide and more than half of all deaths.
Dr Etienne said the new ways in which it is spreading is among younger people who have mild or no symptoms and are unaware they are infected.
In the US, she said young people, especially those aged 20-29 years old, represent 20 per cent of new cases.
“While many young people won’t become ill or require an ICU bed, they are not immune to developing the serious effects of COVID-19,” Dr Etienne said.
Elderly people and those with diabetes or hypertension are still vulnerable, “so, I urge people of all ages to continue to wear masks, practice social distancing to protect themselves and avoid exposing others,” the PAHO director said.
She said that “rates of severe COVID illness have fallen across our region”.
“Today, fewer people are being hospitalised and fewer require intensive care than before, due in part to our growing knowledge of this virus and how to manage critically ill patients,” Dr Etienne said.
She said PAHO has held more than 160 trainings, delivered more than 17 million COVID PCR tests, and millions more gloves, gowns and masks to keep health workers safe, noting that “when hospitals are able to cope and manage patients, there are fewer deaths”.
“These efforts have helped save thousands of lives and will continue to protect countless more,” said Dr Etienne, giving credit to the work of governments which “acted quickly to expand laboratory networks, increase hospital beds, and hire and train health care workers”, as well as health care workers “for their dedication and commitment,” under difficult conditions.
Yet, despite these efforts, Dr Etienne underscored that several groups remain at particular risk, particularly those “with limited access to prevention and care”, including Black, Hispanic and Native American populations in the US, which “are nearly three times as likely to contact COVID as their white counterparts”.
Etienne also highlighted the importance of addressing the health of indigenous populations and migrants in the Region of the Americas.
“Migrant and refugee populations may be increasingly exposed and are at higher risk,” she said. “PAHO has provided support to national authorities in Ecuador, Costa Rica, Brazil and Mexico to design strategies so migrant populations can continue to have access to the food, health care and mental health support they need.”
“Our solidarity towards migrants is not only key for controlling transmission and preventing unnecessary deaths due to COVID-19, but a core reflection of our shared belief that everyone has a right to health and we must leave no one behind,” the PAHO director added.