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Latin America and Caribbean face an “avalanche of worsening health issues” if COVID-19 disruption of health services continues, PAHO warns

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Posted: Thursday, July 29, 2021. 10:57 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: Constrained by their urgent response to COVID-19, countries in the Americas risk the health and safety of residents by not paying attention to essential health services, including immunization of children and care of expectant mothers and people with chronic conditions, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa F. Etienne warned.

At a briefing on Wednesday Dr. Etienne noted that more than 300 thousand children have missed routine immunization, leaving them vulnerable to deadly yet preventable infections.

“Coverage of the first dose of measles vaccines dropped by 10 percent in eight countries in the Americas, including Venezuela, Panama, and Brazil, and dropped as much as 20 percent in Suriname,” she continued. “If we do not reverse these trends, we risk an avalanche of worsening health issues.”

She added that in a recent survey of health services in the region, 97 percent of participating countries and territories reported disrupted health services while 45 percent reported disruptions in at least half of their health services.

“Soon, COVID-19 will not be the only health crisis demanding countries’ attention,” Dr. Etienne said.

PAHO is supporting countries in finding alternatives for delivering health services. Many health systems, including in Chile and Peru, have embraced telemedicine, while others have launched community outreach programs so patients can get medical care while they’re in their homes.

The PAHO Director advised countries to hire and train additional staff so that all health workers have the tools and resources to safely provide care. Asserting that health workers must be “fairly compensated for their extraordinary efforts,” she said Chile recently approved a pay increase to providers who have been critical to the COVID-19 response.

“We know that the economic blowback of this pandemic is forcing countries to make difficult choices on where to prioritize spending, but we cannot afford to cut corners on health,” she said.

“That is why investing in the first level of care now is a smart choice so we can reverse trends more efficiently and equitably than if we wait for health crises to surface,” she said. “As the adage goes: ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

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