Monday, January 25, 2021

PAHO director warns of possible crisis in Haiti due to COVID-19

The Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr Carissa F Etienne has cautioned countries not to prematurely relax their social distancing measures as it could increase the spread of the virus and she has voiced particular concern over Haiti.
According to a PAHO release yesterday, Dr Etienne asked countries to analyze specific trends in the COVID-19 pandemic according to their unique contexts, and warned that reducing social distancing measures “too soon could accelerate the spread of the virus and open the door for a dramatic upsurge or for spread to adjacent areas.”
PAHO says that since the first case of COVID-19 was reported in the Americas more than three months ago, the virus has spread to all countries in the Region, causing more than 1.4 million cases and more than 86,000 deaths, through May 4.
Dr Etienne pointed out that in many areas of the Region the number of cases is doubling every few days, as is the case in the United States, Canada, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Mexico. “This is a concerning indicator that tells us that transmission is still very high in those countries, and they should implement the full range of public health measures available – extensive testing, contact tracing, isolating cases and, of course, social distancing,” she stressed.
As part of her briefing with journalists, the Director also expressed her particular concern for Haiti in the context of the pandemic, and warned of the dangers of a large-scale outbreak in that country, which, added to the difficult situation Haiti is going through, could trigger a humanitarian crisis. “A much broader coalition to address a potential health crisis in this country is needed,” while describing the situation as “a perfect storm approaching.”
Although the country has reported only 100 cases, PAHO informs that there are already 17,000 Haitians who have returned from the Dominican Republic, where there is community transmission, and this number is expected to reach 55,000 in two weeks.
Dr Etienne in highlighting the limited capacity of the Haitian health system stated, “There are few beds for treating COVID-19, insufficient numbers of health professionals and insufficient personal protective equipment.” She added, “The security of the COVID-19 designated hospitals and the safety of community health workers is of great concern.”
The Director noted that most Haitians do not have access to clean water and sanitation, and “many live in overcrowded households where quarantine and isolation are challenging.” In addition, “there is a real risk that growing food insecurity will result in famine. Civil unrest, a difficult political situation and precarious security may further complicate the situation.”
PAHO is urgently working with Haitian health authorities and other partners to strengthen preparations, including organisation of health services, laboratory tests, and the availability of personal protective equipment, as well as training health workers to care for patients with COVID-19.

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