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PAHO Director addresses endemic phase of COVID-19 and Pandemic’s impact on the frontline


by Kevon Browne

St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN) – The world is now in year three of the COVID-19 pandemic. A pandemic that has seen the evolution of a virus to have at least 12 mutations, most of which are now Variants Being Monitored (VBM).

The current dominant variant is the Omicron variant which has been reported as more transmissible and has fewer cases of severe illness. Many officials predict these reduced systems as indicators that the pandemic is moving closer to an endemic virus similar to Influenza, which has a seasonal character in temperate areas but is harder to track in tropical regions.

What does an endemic COVID-19 pandemic mean?

According to the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), endemic means the continued presence of a disease in a populational area with a constant burden over time.

During the recent broadcast (February 9) of the regional COVID-19 press briefing hosted by PAHO, Dr Carissa Etienne explained that they still do not have a clear picture of how an endemic COVID-19 would be considering the possibilities for further mutation of the virus.

“The main characteristic of this pandemic remains the uncertainty of its evolution, and this requires some caution. New variants of concern can emerge and changed completely the COVID-19 epidemiological profile, and we’ve seen this already. When it is possible that the Sars CoV 2 virus will eventually become endemic? We think that this can take some years,” said PAHO’s Director.

“Unfortunately, we expect to see new epidemics or large outbreaks, even in areas with high vaccination coverage, especially where public health and social distancing measures are relaxed. Vaccination is reducing the severe disease and death from COVID-19. But let’s remember transmission. There is no established definition of what an endemic COVID-19 would be or would look like.” 

Earlier in her presentation, Dr Etienne said that the Caribbean still sees new cases slowly recorded while deaths from the virus continue to climb in some countries, including Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

With the healthcare systems around the world still combatting the pandemic, Dr Etienne expressed a need to add support for healthcare workers’ mental health management and resources.

“When cases surge exponentially, as they have in the past few weeks, the burden falls mostly on the people that power our health systems. For them, there is nothing mild about the Omicron wave.”

In tracking the effect of the pandemic on the workforce, PAHO released a report with data that describes the challenges frontline workers face and how to support them.

Dr Etienne shared a few lessons from the report.

“The first is that especially at the beginning of the pandemic, health workers were caught off guard and our health systems were unprepared to support them. Doctors, nurses and other frontline workers saw more patients and worked longer than ever before. They were vulnerable to a new virus, and without sufficient masks, gloves, and other personal protective equipment, suffered high rates of COVID infection. Even before the pandemic, the health workforce in the Americas faced serious disadvantages that were only exacerbated by COVID. Years of under-investment in our health services, ageing information systems, and poor labour conditions may now have workers jobs even more challenging. The pandemic revealed a deficit in the availability of health workers or even distribution of health workers across our countries and inadequate training.”

According to PAHO’s Director, many healthcare workers in the region were at risk of burnout, elevated rates of depressive symptoms, suicidal thinking and psychological distress.


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