The Latin American region became the new epicenter of the pandemic, as announced by Dr. Carissa Etienne, Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) during the virtual briefing session on COVID-19, on past May 26.
The Director clarified that cases in the region will continue to rise, so it is time to “stay strong and vigilant towards changes.” In this regard, PAHO Assistant Director, Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, explained that the population must commit to follow the measures that governments implement, because only this way the measures can be truly effective.
The Director of the PAHO Department of Communicable Diseases, Marcos Espinal, mentioned that although each country has its actions to mitigate the spread of the virus, most countries in Latin America do not have enough tests to detect coronavirus; according to him “increasing the amount of testing in the countries is the only way to have a clear image of the region and prevent the spread of the virus.” He also made special emphasis on the importance of educating people with true events, given the high volumes of fake news in the region.
To increase tests in the region, Sylvain Aldighieri, PAHO Deputy Director Health Emergencies, said that it is necessary for the different Latin American countries to increase their network of public and private laboratories. Consistent with this, PAHO offers a strategic fund of molecular kits, so that governments ensure that all patients can be tested.
During the briefing session, special emphasis was also placed on the fight against non-communicable diseases, as part of the response to COVID-19 in Latin America. The reason is simple: coronavirus has a disproportionate impact on people suffering from chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, asthma, hypertension, cardiovascular problems, among others.
To illustrate the problem, Dra. Etienne used hard figures from a study performed in China. For example, more than 28% of cancer patients who became infected with coronaviruses died, a mortality figure that is normally two percent of all patients. In Latin America there are 1.2 million people with cancer. Also, diabetes patients double the chance of developing a serious illness or dying. There are 62 million people with diabetes in the region.
In summary, one in four people in the region are at increased risk of poor outcomes if they get COVID-19. Added to this situation is the interruption in the routine of healthcare services for patients with chronic diseases, as well as the supply and distribution chains that have been interrupted by the pandemic. “Patients who have diseases which we know how to treat are in a difficult place. If we do not take care of them, we are going to face a parallel epidemic of people with other diseases,” announced Dra. Etienne.
Finally, to counter the situation in Latin America with patients with chronic diseases, the Director recommended prioritizing scheduled appointments for these patients, implementing telemedicine, ensuring supply chains and giving patients the necessary information so they know how to protect themselves from the virus.
Latin America is entering the most intense crisis due to coronavirus, now more than ever citizens must respect the measures taken by governments. This is not the time to let your guard down, because, as demonstrated in the fight against COVID-19, only with teamwork you can save as many lives.
Published on 3rd June