Americas at risk of losing years of health gains, says PAHO

Americas at risk of losing years of health gains, says PAHO

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS
Senior staff reporter
dunkleywillisa@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, August 06, 2020

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The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is voicing “growing concern” over data showing that a number of countries have pulled back essential health care services at the primary level, such as pregnancy-related care and management of chronic conditions like diabetes and infectious diseases, to grapple with rising COVID-19 cases.

Speaking during the organisation’s weekly virtual press briefing on Tuesday, PAHO’s Director Dr Carissa F Etienne said, already, in 27 countries, half of the diabetes and hypertension programmes at primary care level have been halted, with pregnancy-related visits dropping by 40 per cent.

Additionally, she said as of Tuesday, “11 countries within the Americas have less than [a] three-month supply of antiretrovirals”.

“If these are not replenished soon, people living with HIV may have to interrupt their treatment. Meanwhile, some countries will run out of tuberculosis medication within the next three months and the reagents that they need to diagnose TB [tuberculosis] in half of that time. Running out of these supplies is simply not an option. We cannot allow this to happen,” Dr Etienne declared.

The PAHO director said in every country in the region, health workers are being redirected to care for the influx of COVID-19 patients, with many getting sick themselves.

Dr Etienne said, at the same time, patients who are sick or who think they might be sick are hesitant to seek care for fear of COVID-19 infection due to transportation disruptions and lockdowns, which have made it harder to get to local clinics.

“Some may even assume that care is not available and postpone the help they need, often worsening their situation. Additionally, clinics and hospitals are still struggling to stock their shelves with the medicines and personal protective equipment that they need, as the pandemic has strained global supply chains and slowed global trade,” she told the briefing.

Dr Etienne said while PAHO does not yet know the full extent of the problem, because disease surveillance has been severely disrupted across more than half of the region due to lack of lab capacity, supplies, and personnel, it is continuously monitoring the situation.

PAHO, in the meantime, said more than a quarter of countries have suspended routine vaccination campaigns, voicing concern about immunization levels. It has also reiterated the call made last week for significant investment in the health care system, which it says is “long overdue and now desperately needed”, stating that “now is the time for countries to dedicate six per cent of GDP [gross domestic product] towards health care”.

According to PAHO, “The Americas are at risk of losing years of health gains in a matter of months.”

As of August 3, the Americas has recorded more than 9.7 million cases of COVID-19 and over 365,000 deaths.

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