(CMC) – The director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr Carissa Etienne, Wednesday called for countries to implement tools proven to keep communities safe in the run-up to the festive period amid concerns that the region is experiencing an increase in coronavirus (COVID-19) cases.
She also said that measures including vaccines, surveillance, mask-wearing and social distancing are necessary given the increase in seasonal influenza and a spike in cases of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).
“The rise of a single respiratory infection is a cause for concern. When two or three start impacting a population concurrently, this should put us all on alert,” she told a news conference.
PAHO said that cases of COVID-19 have increased by 17 per cent in the region over the past week and deaths increased in South America and Central America.
A reduction in testing may be hiding the true number of infections.
“The situation can change quickly. Every time we become complacent with this virus, we run the risk of resurgence. We cannot lower our guard,” the Dominican-born Etienne said.
PAHO said cases of influenza in North America are rising and an out-of-season increase in cases in the Southern Cone is also being seen, particularly in Argentina and Uruguay, which is putting unexpected stress on health systems.
RSV infections have also increased significantly, burdening health systems in Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Uruguay and the United States and having a particular impact on children and infants under the age of one.
Etienne said that the strategies used to limit the spread of COVID-19, including mask-wearing and social distancing, also apply to other respiratory diseases, including RSV, for which there is currently no vaccine.
Countries must also strengthen genomic surveillance of diseases and continue to encourage vaccination against COVID-19 and influenza.
This year, the PAHO Revolving Fund has procured 39.5 million vaccine doses against COVID-19, and 31 million influenza vaccines to member states.
“We have enough vaccines to keep us all safe. Let’s use them,” Etienne said, noting that the cholera situation in Haiti continues to worsen, with over 700 confirmed cases since early October, 7,000 suspected cases, and 144 deaths.
She said PAHO continues to support Haiti in providing life-saving care to patients, deploying health workers and facilitating access to fuel for health facilities, but other countries must increase vigilance.
The PAHO director said Monkeypox infections have fallen in most of the severely affected countries but called for countries to continue to engage with those who are most at risk, “to drive cases to zero as quickly as possible.”
She said as far as polio is concerned, no further cases in the region had been reported, though vaccination remains “historically low.”
“We must remember that polio spreads silently and it has no cure or treatment. Vaccines are our best tool to prevent this disease. As we head into the holiday season and travel to visit family and friends, people must remain vigilant about all these health threats and learn from the lessons of COVID-19.
“We have the tools at our disposal to limit the impact of severe respiratory diseases, and we must continue to respond to these crises as a region. Let’s not take these lessons for granted,” Etienne added.