PAHO director urges countries in the region to fight spread of COVID-19

With many countries of the Americas now reporting community transmission of COVID-19, there is still a short window of time for governments to slow the spread of the virus, reduce the impact on health systems and save lives, said the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) Director, Carissa F. Etienne, during a media briefing on Tuesday.

As of 31 March 2020, three months after the first case of COVID-19 was reported in China, there have been 188 949 confirmed cases in the Americas and 3 561 people have died.

As has been seen in other regions of the world, cases are expected to escalate in the Region of the Americas.

Countries must take urgent action to prepare hospitals and health facilities for what is coming: an influx of COVID-19 patients that will need hospital space, beds, health professionals and medical equipment.

“This virus has not and will not be stopped by borders drawn on maps,” said Dr Etienne.

She said countries must also protect their health personnel as never before. This includes training on how to avoid infections and access to adequate supplies of protective equipment.

“It is our duty to protect them and care for them, as they will be on the frontlines of this battle,” she said.

It is also vital that countries decide what social distancing measures need to be implemented and for how long. These are the only way to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed by too many sick people in too short a time. Based on the experience of countries in other regions, Dr. Etienne highlighted that “it seems prudent to plan for the implementation of measures for, at least, two to three months”. 

Without solid evidence on effective treatments and no available vaccine at hand, social distancing and other aggressive preventative measures remain our best bet to prevent the most severe consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic in our region, she added.

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