WASHINGTON, D.C. April 7, 2020 (CMC) – The Organization of American States (OAS) says that leaders of organizations that make up the Joint Summit Working Group (JSWG) have agreed on the need to coordinate response to the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the region.
The JSWG comprises: the OAS; Inter-American Development Bank (IDB); Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC); Pan American Health Organization (PAHO); World Bank; Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA); Development Bank of Latin America (CAF); Caribbean Development Bank (CDB); Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI); International Organization for Migration (IOM); International Labor Organization (ILO); United Nations Development Program (UNDP); and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
In a video-conference — called by the Chair of the JSWG, Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the OAS; and the Director of PAHO, Carissa F. Etienne — discussions entailed coordinated and joint responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, including support in the areas of crisis preparedness, mitigation and recovery.
The OAS said, in a statement, that leaders also agreed that multilateralism and international cooperation are “essential, today, to face the crisis.
“The multilateral organizations recognized PAHO’s efforts to guarantee real-time information to countries, and the efficient coordination of national and regional response operations.”
It noted that PAHO continues to work to limit person-to-person transmission, including reducing secondary infections, between close contacts and healthcare workers, as well as preventing events that lead to the expansion of COVID-19 transmissions.
“PAHO reiterated the need to identify, isolate, and care for patients, early, with care optimized for infected patients, and highlighted that need, to communicate critical risk and event information to all communities, and to counter any misinformation,” the statement stated.
In addition, PAHO noted that, in the absence of sufficient RT-PCR tests, many countries are now using, or purchasing, other types of laboratory kits, including rapid-test kits.
“In general, these rapid-tests can be used to detect COVID-19, but should not be used to rule out cases,” the OAS warned.
“The severe shortage of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) is putting a greater number of health workers at risk, especially in countries with weaker health systems and those with a high increase in cases.”
Another great challenge is the very low availability of respiratory equipment, to treat critically-ill patients, and the lack of health professionals in some countries, the OAS said.
It disclosed, international travel restrictions are affecting the delivery of: drugs to treat COVID-19 and other diseases; laboratory kits; PPE; vaccines; and other supplies.
“The crisis, caused by the pandemic, will have serious economic and social consequences for the region, making it necessary to have an inclusive strategy that allows for more proactive measures, in supporting countries,” the OAS warned.
“The economic effects of the interruption of value chains in Latin American countries, the contraction of international trade and the decline of tourism in the Caribbean, are seen as key problems.
“Taking into account this context, sources of support should be sought, to protect employment and income; avoid the bankruptcy of MSME’s (Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises); and meet the needs of populations in poverty, which, in the majority, do not have health coverage,” it added.
“It was requested that a joint regional voice be brought before the G20, and that middle-income countries also be taken into account, when making loans more flexible.”
The OAS pointed out that countries of the Caribbean, despite the fact that most of them are classified as middle-income, have special vulnerabilities: the pressure of external debt and the recurrence of natural disasters.
“It is absolutely essential that they have financial relief to cope with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” it urged.
Participants warned that it will be necessary to have a financial package that can assist countries to address the crisis, and that it is important that the region act, in a unified manner, to promote this approach.
The situation of women was especially considered, by the multilateral organizations gathered: “Given that they are multiply-affected and extremely-vulnerable to this crisis, firstly, because they occupy the majority of jobs in the health sector and, therefore, are largely heroines, because day-by-day they face the COVID-19 pandemic and are more exposed,” the OAS declared.
It said women’s levels of employment have been severely affected, because they also constitute the majority of the workforce in the most severely-affected sectors, and their enterprises in MSMEs are being seriously disrupted, by the crisis.
The OAS said women are also affected by psychological tension, stress and violence against women, resulting from the need for home quarantine.
“Participants also analyzed the situation of migrants, as they are among the most vulnerable sectors of the population, because they are the first to become unemployed, and refugee centers generally do not have the adequate structure to prevent the COVID-19 contagion,” the OAS explained.
It said the development of regional protocols, to allow the passage of agricultural products and measures to stimulate intraregional trade, were suggested.
“There is a need to put special emphasis on food security, in order to avoid shortages, price increases and cases of social violence,” it advised.
Specifically, the OAS said the multilateral organizations mentioned the implementation, or the need to implement, measures of, among others, emergency support; strengthening of health systems; mitigation of economic effects; flexibility in the use of financial resources; support to MSMEs and protection of employment and income; support for populations that are disproportionately affected by the crisis, including women employed in the most affected sectors and the migrant population; and support to Caribbean countries, “which will be doubly affected”, as well as highly-indebted, low- and middle-income countries.
“The institutions agreed that the crisis, generated by COVID-19, brings an obligation to strengthen multilateralism in the region, because, today, more than ever, global efforts are required to address a situation that exceeds the individual capacities of the member states of the region.
“The organizations, belonging to the JSWG, highlighted: the need to make the use of financial resources more flexible, in the short term, in the region; the need for regional solidarity; and pledged to continue with coordination efforts to strengthen response capacities at the national and regional levels that allow countries to attend to the multiple dimensions of the crisis,” it added.
The members of the JSWG agreed to meet, periodically, “in order to ensure continuous coordination, and update the information, shared in the link, that shows an overview of the actions of the inter-American community, in support of the countries and peoples of the region”.