By Benjamin Flowers: The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is urging Latin American and Caribbean countries to step up surveillance efforts after floods to quickly identify and control disease outbreaks with serious public health impacts.
On Friday, February 25, PAHO published new guidelines in an Epidemiological Alert on “Post-flood public health events in the context of COVID-19 pandemic,” and the organization noted that there have already been heavy rains in the region that have caused serious flooding in a number of countries including Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, and the Dominican Republic.
PAHO said common health events after floods and landslides include acute diarrheal diseases and leptospirosis infections from exposure to contaminated water and said that it is concerned that the ongoing La Niña weather phenomenon could keep rains going into March causing further burdens on health systems which are already strained due to COVID-19.
“Floods and landslides can cause disruptions to water supply and sewage systems, contamination of crops and foods, and displacement of populations to makeshift shelters, where they are exposed to overcrowding, poor sanitation, and other risk factors,” PAHO said.”Infection prevention and control measures are critical in these shelters to reduce the probability of COVID-19 and other outbreaks.”
Among the recommendations, PAHO urged countries to set up early warning and response systems (EWARS) to detect outbreaks and health events that require immediate response, stressing that doing so can save lives. PAHO explained that EWARS should include information such as disease surveillance, community-based surveillance, environmental and ecological observations, and health-related behavioral information such as drug and product sales.
Other recommendations include that local authorities establish and implement systems for the continuous monitoring of water quality for human consumption and food preparation, and provide safe water in sufficient quantities and adequate information to populations.