Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa F. Etienne reported on Tuesday that 1,857,523 people have died from COVID-19 in the Americas while the region has suffered an “unprecedented rise in poverty.”
“These have been extremely difficult times as we have had to grapple with the world’s worst health crisis in 100 years,” Dr. Etienne said during opening remarks to the 168th Session of PAHO’s Executive Committee, adding that the “spirit of unity” and “Pan Americanism” have allowed PAHO and its member countries to “surmount the many challenges presented by this pandemic, meeting them fearlessly and with much hope.”
The Executive Committee is composed of nine Member States of PAHO. Its 168th session takes place June 21 to 25, and will examine a wide range of issues, including a roadmap to digital transformation of health and an approach for the human-animal-environment health interface, also known as “One Health.”
Other topics include reinvigorating immunization as a public good for universal health; increasing production capacity for essential medicines and health technologies in the Region; and building resilient health systems to underpin the post-COVID-19 recovery and protect the region’s public health gains.
Citing the International Labour Organization, Dr. Etienne said Latin America and the Caribbean have lost 26 million jobs as a result of the pandemic. Citing the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean-ECLAC, she said the number of poor people in the region had risen to 209 million by the end of 2020 – “22 million more than in the previous year, representing an unprecedented rise in poverty levels.…”
In response, PAHO has intensified its assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean. In collaboration with the COVAX Facility, PAHO has helped with procurement and delivery of more than 20 million vaccine doses to the region. The organization has also secured the provision of tens of millions of pieces of medical equipment, including more than 6.85 million sets of protective gloves, 2.36 million gowns, 41.2 million surgical and respirator masks, 19.5 million COVID-19 PCR tests, and 6.9 million rapid antigen tests.
In addition, PAHO has conducted more than 249 training exercises on testing, tracking, clinical care and other issues, including vulnerable and indigenous populations.
Dr. Etienne warned that PAHO and member countries must “turn the tide” on the pandemic while protecting hard-won health gains such as elimination of indigenous transmission of vaccine-preventable diseases, elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and congenital syphilis, and elimination of Chagas disease and malaria.
“Will we ultimately win this war given the gaps and challenges that continue to emerge on a daily basis? I would answer, unequivocally, yes, as we have won the day many times before during our 118 years of working with you, our Member States, to improve the health and well-being of the peoples of the Americas,” Dr. Etienne told participants in the meeting. “This is why we must begin today to plan for the recovery and the post-COVID era towards sustainable development for all.”