Prevention is key to tackling viruses, PAHO director says

Washington – Director of the Pan Health Organisation (PAHO), Dr  Carissa Etienne said on Wednesday prevention remains a major key in preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and Monkeypox in the Americas, including the Caribbean.

Etienne said COVID-19 and Monkeypox remain “significant threats” to the region, but she zeroed in on the coronavius, which has accounted for millions of infection and deaths since the first case was detected two years ago.

The PAHO director said though there has been a decrease in COVID-19 cases, hospitalisations and deaths in the Americas hundreds were still dying every day across the region, yet countries have scaled back their public health measures while millions remain unvaccinated.

Etienne said while most vaccines delivered in the Americas are for boosters, 10 countries and territories have yet to fully vaccinate even 40% of their populations and some people have yet to receive a single vaccine dose.

“We must not and cannot be complacent because this virus is still circulating, still evolving, and new variants can still emerge,” she said, appealing to countries to prioritise those who remain unprotected, including children returning to school this month.

Regarding Monkeypox, the PAHO Director said over 30 000 cases have been reported in the region, making the Americas the global epicenter of the outbreak.

Most cases are concentrated in the United States, Brazil, Peru and Canada, and primarily among men who have sex with men, although at least 145 cases have been reported in women and 54 among people under the age of 18.

Following a request from member states during a special session of the directing council in August, PAHO secured a deal with the manufacturer of the Monkeypox vaccine to make this available to countries in the region.

With vaccines in short supply however, and no effective treatment for Monkeypox, Dr Etienne urged countries to “intensify efforts to prevent the spread of the virus”.

She said this included effective communication campaigns using pragmatic, honest, targeted messages,  “…so that everyone knows how Monkeypox is spread, how to identify specific symptoms, and when to seek medical attention.”

Jamaica confirmed two more cases of Monkeypox on Tuesday, bringing the number of people with the virus to nine as health authorities indicated that there was no guarantee that the island will actually get the amount of doses promised through the PAHO arrangement.


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