WASHINGTON, United States (CMC) — Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Dr Carissa Etienne said Wednesday that while COVID-19 infections have generally declined in the Americas in the past week, “local trends remain worrisome”.
And she called on countries to expedite vaccination efforts and take steps to strengthen surveillance efforts to monitor diseases that spread from humans to animals, such as coronaviruses.
The director also announced that PAHO has closed additional agreements with AstraZeneca, Sinopharm, and Sinovac to facilitate access to COVID-19 vaccines in Latin America and the Caribbean. The WHO Emergency Use Listing authorised vaccines will be made available to countries this year and in 2022.
Addressing the trajectory of COVID-19 in the Americas this week, Dr Etienne noted that while cases are generally declining across the Caribbean, the islands of Cuba, and Bermuda continue to report high rates of new infections and Barbados saw cases increase by nearly 75 per cent over the last week.
Hospitalisations have also jumped by two-thirds in Belize.
Turning to the risk presented by animal to human — or zoonotic — diseases, Dr Etienne called for regional governments to apply a “One Health” approach to rapidly detect emerging pathogens that have the potential to pose a public health risk. PAHO has prioritised this approach for many years.
“Just as we work together to control this pandemic, we must consider the ways in which we can collaborate to avoid future pandemics,” she said.
“COVID-19 has been unique in its scale and impact, but it’s not the first emerging disease to cause ripple effects throughout the world,” she added, citing recent epidemics with severe impacts that were caused by diseases that spill from animals to people, such as Ebola, chikungunya, yellow fever, avian influenza, and Zika.
“We need countries to ensure that animal, agricultural and environmental partners are brought to the table to build more robust surveillance systems that can detect risks faster, prioritise investments in R&D for high-risk pathogens, and establish strong pandemic responses that build on the strengths of these diverse areas of expertise,” she said.
“As countries revisit their health budgets, rethink how they deliver health care, and engage in global efforts to prevent the next pandemic, we urge them to build on this “One Health” approach as the smartest, most effective way to protect ourselves from the next crisis,” she said.