Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, the new director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), categorically assures that “the pandemic has not ended.”
Current figures from the agency show more than 300,000 new infections and more than 3,300 deaths from COVID-19 in just 24 hours in the Americas region. Although the most acute phase of the emergency has emerged, it cannot be said that the pandemic has an end point.
“The virus is still in circulation,” says Barbosa, so “vigilance must be strengthened” to immediately identify if a new variant appears.
Close surveillance and monitoring are among the most important tools. Health security agencies establish response protocols, but each country must have updated data to identify an increase in cases, and thus be able to adequately control outbreaks.
Another point of relevance is vaccination on time and complying with the booster patterns, since vaccines have a limited protection time and the body needs to strengthen its antibody template.
“There is a lot of misinformation. Some people believe that because they already had COVID they do not need to take the reinforcement, and that is not true, ”Barbosa clarifies.
During the almost three years that have elapsed since the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic, public health organizations have emphasized the deficiencies in the countries’ health systems. The American continent has been classified as the hardest hit, having a large number of cases without the ability to control and solve it.
Among the traces of the emergency caused by the coronavirus are “many negative impacts on priority public health programs. Children stopped being vaccinated, women stopped having their preventive exams for cancer, people with diabetes and hypertension did not have access to medicines or missed their control appointments; so we have to make a lot of progress in recovery,” says the director of PAHO.
The organization is committed to a post-pandemic recovery system that is strategic enough so that “we can be better than before”. Although the World Health Organization is the entity in charge of evaluating and decreeing the end of the pandemic and the emergency programs, Barbosa considers that it is necessary to work with time in the health systems, information campaigns and regulation of assistance protocols to avoid major complications in the future, especially due to a number of diseases that have increased due to lack of care during these years.
“The idea is that the countries of the region can receive new strategies and technologies and transform demonstration projects that we have in the region into policies implemented in all primary care health systems. That can further the goals we have of sustainable development,” she added.
Vulnerable countries and regional mobility
“The countries that cause the most concern are the ones that are most fragile,” says Barbosa. And in this area, Haiti sets off alarm bells. The country has been experiencing a political emergency for more than a year, following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, a deep social crisis after the earthquake in August 2022 and, more recently, a health crisis that was declared in October last year, when there was a major outbreak of cholera which, to date, reports more than 24,000 cases throughout the country.
“We maintain continuous vigilance and support to all countries, but those [países] Those with weaker health systems are the ones we are most concerned about, because if we have a new variant there, the response capacity is not as strong as in other countries,” Barbosa explained.
The PAHO director also reported that the vaccination process in Haiti is underway, a process that includes its distribution and application. Cholera vaccines come from a strategic reserve that was used four years ago and good results were obtained with this inoculum.
“Cholera, if detected early and with proper care, we can greatly reduce mortality. The problem is when the health system is not organized to diagnose and treat, that can be a risk for the patient, ”she pointed out.
And to the vulnerability of certain countries is added human mobility. Latin America is a territory that suffers great impacts from this issue. The exodus of Venezuelans established a historical milestone that not only affected the political and economic level, but also caused a break in the regular flow of health systems.
“Some countries like Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, we have the whole problem of migration from Central America with inadequate conditions. Many times these people during migration and when they arrive where they are going, do not have full access to the health systems,” Barbosa stressed, explaining that a document was established four years ago to guarantee basic health services for migrants. and to identify comprehensive measures that can be put in place in recipient countries.
A breakthrough in the control of tropical diseases
Diseases such as Dengue, Chikunguya and Zika, transmitted by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, are the type of tropical pathologies that return to practically every country on the continent every year. The lack of access to running water, which causes the need for storage, and failures in the fumigation system to kill the mosquito are some of the obstacles in the fight.
“PAHO greatly supports the countries with guides, technicians, information, and protocols to improve vector control problems,” Barbosa said.
Among the combat programs, new technologies have been implemented that could make a difference, including a process of infection of the mosquito with a bacterium that does not affect humans but that reduces the capacity of the transmitter to contaminate with the Dengue virus and “perhaps with the other viruses as well.” A revolutionary change that is under study, just like a vaccine, he said.
In its 120 years, PAHO affirms that it will emphasize the recovery of health systems, while working on a better understanding of what prevention and daily care means to avoid future emergencies.
Source: VOA Español