WASHINGTON, District of Columbia March 20, 2020 (CMC) – The Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, has called on all countries in the Americas, including the Caribbean, to take urgent action to reorganize their health services and protect health professionals, in order to safely care for patients with the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) — and save lives.
“The message is clear, now is the time for countries to increase their capacity to detect cases, care for patients, and ensure that hospitals have the space, supplies and staff they need, to provide the necessary care,” said Dr. Etienne, during her weekly teleconference with the region’s health ministers.
She urged them to involve citizens and other sectors, in support of public health action.
“If everyone collaborates, it is not too late to contain the situation, flatten the epidemic curve, and thereby avoid overloading the health services, so that they can give the necessary care to all who need it,” Dr. Etienne added.
PAHO said since the beginning of the COVID-19 epidemic on December 31, last year, until March 17, there were 191,127 cases and 7,807 deaths, reported globally. The majority of these deaths are in China, Italy, Iran, Spain and France.
PAHO said, as of Wednesday, in the region of the Americas, 37 countries and territories reported 5,944 cases and 19 deaths.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said that 81 percent of COVID-19 cases are relatively mild, 14 percent evolve into more severe illness, and about five percent become critical, requiring supportive treatment, such as oxygen and mechanical ventilation.
PAHO said advanced age and pre-existing medical conditions are risk factors, for severe outcomes.
“The massive influx of patients, requiring medical attention for COVID-19, can overwhelm hospitals’ capacity to provide care for all who need it. Sharp increases in critical illnesses have already exhausted, both biomedical supplies and personnel, in some countries,” PAHO said.
For this reason, Dr. Etienne urged hospitals to develop surge-plans and to ensure that health personnel have the personal protective equipment and training they need, to prevent infection.
“Health personnel are the first line of defense against this pandemic. We must protect them, so they can take care of all of us,” the Dominica-born PAHO Director said.
“The course of the pandemic will depend on what measures countries take,” said Dr. Etienne, pointing out that three main scenarios are now unfolding in the countries of the Americas: clusters of COVID-19 cases, related to imported cases; outbreaks in “closed spaces”, such as nursing homes; and community transmission.
PAHO noted that many countries have already taken action to reduce the rate of transmission and protect their populations, ranging from declaring a state of emergency to closing borders, schools and universities, and promoting social-distancing.
“PAHO continues to work with countries to provide support and respond, together, to this pandemic. We should expect all countries to report cases.
“We need to reduce transmission, flatten the curve, and avoid situations that can overwhelm our hospitals and our health personnel, to save lives,” Dr. Etienne added.