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February 10, 2022
Latin America and Caribbean not yet over latest COVID wave
February 10, 2022

Despite recession in new cases, struggles continue for ‘overburdened’ health systems: says Pan American Health Organization

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Posted: Thursday, February 10, 2022. 11:41 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: The recent surge in COVID-19 cases, although receding, has further exposed the burden laid on an under-resourced, aging, and neglected health system, according to Pan American Health Organization Director Carissa F. Etienne during her weekly briefing.

Speaking of health workers, she said, “For them, there is nothing mild about this Omicron wave.” PAHO’s study showed that over the course of the pandemic, doctors, nurses, and other frontline health workers saw more patients, worked longer hours, and suffered higher rates of COVID-19 infection – up to 10 percent in countries such as Ecuador and Bolivia, and many more left exposed without access to sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE).

This has led to “elevated rates of depressive symptoms, suicidal thinking, and psychological distress,” the Director said.

“Now more than ever, we must ensure health workers are protected with lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines and receive priority for vaccine boosters, where available,” Dr. Etienne said. Ensuring access to PPE and prioritizing health care workers for vaccination are also critical to addressing these issues and enabling them to do their jobs safely.

The Director cited policies like hazard pay and life insurance, as well as regular testing, and transitioning pregnant and older staff to telemedicine work, as strategies countries can apply to protect health care workers.

“Investing in our health workforce should not be something countries only do during an emergency,” she said, adding that an investment in our health workforce is “an investment in all of us.”

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