By Aaron Humes: The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) continues to maintain caution as the fight against COVID-19 continues, two years after the first declaration of pandemic status, and coming as public health measures are being lifted in many parts of the Americas.
Director Dr. Carissa Etienne, urging countries to base decisions on risk assessments and health data, and to tighten public health guidance if cases go up, stated, “When places relax measures at the wrong moment, transmission spikes dangerously and we lose more lives…COVID-19 is likely to be here to stay. We must learn to live with this virus, and quickly adapt to new changes…”
Dr. Etienne observed that the Americas lost 2.6 million people to the virus, half of all global deaths, and that the effects of this “tragedy of enormous proportions…will be felt for years to come.” But that doesn’t mean it’s gone away – a threat is still present, with record numbers of new infections during the Omicron wave and the Americas accounting for 63 percent of all new global cases in January and February.
Dr. Etienne counseled that countries must be prepared to act quickly and adjust public health guidance if a new variant emerges or another outbreak happens, ensuring continued surveillance and making testing readily available. She also cautioned to address the inequities exposed by the pandemic, including the fact that more than 248 million people region-wide have yet to receive even a single dose of COVID-19 vaccines, especially in harder to reach rural areas and underserved communities.
“Our wins against COVID-19 show us what is possible when we work together and use the tools we know are effective,” Dr. Etienne said, referencing the advances made in the fight against COVID-19 in the past year, such as public health measures to slow the spread, safe vaccines, and better treatment options.