(CMC) – The Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Dr Carissa Etienne, Wednesday, warned that as the Omicron sub-lineages drive a new wave of coronavirus (COVID-19) infections and cases of the Monkeypox virus continue to rise, countries should work together to meet the growing demand for vaccines, medicines, and other health equipment in the region.
She told the weekly PAHO news conference that the emergence of Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 variants, is “yet another reminder that the virus keeps evolving every time it is transmitted, and that we must remain vigilant”.
“Manufacturing capacity will continue to be sorely needed in our region to help deal with COVID-19 and other pathogens. There are likely to be outbreaks of other diseases that will require us to rapidly develop and deploy new vaccines, diagnostics, and drugs to fight them,” the Dominican-born PAHO director said.
Dr Etienne said that at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the region struggled to meet the growing demand for drugs, diagnostics, and personal protective equipment, with many countries relying on imports to protect their populations.
She said when COVID-19 vaccines were first rolled out countries also scrambled “to secure supplies.
“We must be better prepared for the future,” she said, announcing a three-step plan to work with countries and international donors to bolster regional capacity to manufacture vaccines and medical tools.
The first phase will focus on efforts to strengthen research and development in Latin America and the Caribbean, particularly in the area of mRNA vaccine development.
The Regional Platform to Advance Manufacturing of COVID-19 Vaccines and other Health Technologies, launched last year, aims to train and support local companies in utilising mRNA vaccine technology. So far, Sinergium Biotech from Argentina and the Institute of Immunobiology Bio-Manguinhos from Brazil are participating in this initiative.
The second phase focuses on developing a strong regional regulatory system to ensure that new medical tools are safe and effective.
For the third phase, PAHO is working with regional and international partners to create a shared roadmap to improve the production of health technology in the Americas, including partnerships with the European Union to strengthen the region’s capacity for medical product development.
“All these efforts combined have the potential to transform how our region develops and manufactures health products, especially highly sophisticated tools such as vaccines,” Dr Etienne said.
However, Dr Etienne also warned that improving manufacturing capacity alone “is not sufficient to guarantee access,” and that PAHO’s pooled procurement mechanisms such as the Revolving Fund will be key to ensuring that vaccines and other health technologies are available to everyone in the region.
She said the Revolving Fund shows the “impact we can have when we leverage our history of solidarity and collaboration, adding “with this same spirit, we can build up our region’s medical production capacity to save and protect even more lives”.
Regarding the COVID-19 situation in the region, countries reported approximately 1.6 million cases and 4800 deaths last week, a 0.9 and 3.5 per cent decrease respectively.
Central America reported an increase in cases, by 54.9 per cent, and South America reported a two per cent increase.
In the Caribbean, cases fell by 5.2 per cent, and in North America, cases fell by 4.5 per cent.