Posted: Tuesday, August 31, 2021. 11:17 am CST.
By Aaron Humes: Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa F. Etienne has said the severe shortage of COVID-19 vaccines in Latin America and the Caribbean is a “wake-up call” for increased regional production of vaccines and announced the start of a new platform to reach that goal.
Regional stakeholders in the public and private sector will be meeting to reverse a state of affairs that has left Latin America and the Caribbean importing ten times more pharmaceuticals than it produces, compromising response to both the pandemic and to public health generally.
On August 27, leaders from global financial institutions, governments, and public health agencies met to discuss the platform, which will foster research and incentivize development and manufacture of health technologies.
Dr. Etienne noted that “PAHO is already spearheading initiatives to help reduce our dependency on pharmaceutical imports.” PAHO is working with the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners to bring the highly effective mRNA vaccine technology into the region. So far, over 30 public and private companies and institutions have expressed desire to take part in the technology transfer, and PAHO is in the “process of identifying the most promising proposals,” she said.
Only about 23 percent of people in the region have been fully vaccinated, and in many countries, coverage is much lower. “Just as manufacturers adapted quickly to produce some of the PPE and ventilators our region needed earlier in the pandemic, we must bring the same spirit of collaboration into vaccine production in the region,” she said.
Noting that investment is key, Dr. Etienne said the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank and other partners have expressed desire to help the region expand its pharmaceutical production.
Over 1.5 million new cases and nearly 20,000 COVID-19-related deaths in the Americas have been reported in the past week.
The U.S., Mexico, and Brazil reported the highest number of cases. Many Central American countries, including Belize, Guatemala and Honduras, are experiencing a rise in COVID-19 infections. Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and smaller Caribbean islands such as Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Dominica have reported steep increases in new infections and deaths.
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