Sat | Sep 18, 2021

Complacency is our greatest enemy – Etienne

Published:Wednesday | July 1, 2020 | 12:16 AMChristopher Serju/Gleaner Writer

Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr Carissa Etienne, yesterday warned that “complacency is our greatest enemy” in the fight against the COVID-19 spread, charging that countries and territories in Latin America and the Caribbean need to implement stringent control measures as they move to reopen their economies.

With 5.1 million cases and more than 247,000 deaths due to COVID-19 reported in the Americas, the region is now at the centre of the response to the pandemic and must chart carefully its next course of action, according to Dr Etienne.

She explained that multiple epidemiological curves coexist within our region and within each country, and public-health responses must be tailored to these specific situations.

“As countries that have controlled the spread of COVID-19 start planning to reopen, timing is going to be very critical at national or local level, and we must open gradually, taking a phased approach that relies on robust surveillance, data and expanding testing, and contact-tracing capacity.

“If you have the will to relax preventative measures, you must also have the courage to pull back if infections rise,” she told the weekly PAHO virtual meeting on COVID-19.

The PAHO director admitted that the many people living below the poverty line or relying on the informal economy makes quarantine measures difficult to uphold for protracted periods. Also, because our health services are not distributed equally, some communities are far better served than others and many people do not seek care or choose to go very late in the illness because they cannot afford to pay.

“The personal, social and economic toll of stay-at-home orders has strained our region and the political pressure to ease restrictions is palpable. However, the virus cannot be left unchecked, as we are seeing that countries, states and cities that do not embrace preventative measures, or relax restriction too soon, can be flooded with new cases.

“This forces us to face a hard truth: we must not abandon what works because of fatigue or political pressure. This virus does not work that way. We need to double down on measures that saved lives early on and to deploy them with more precision than ever before. We must let data, not passion, guide our actions,” she charged.