PAHO: COVID Cases Rising in Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago

The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) has expressed concern over the recent increase in COVID-19 cases in several countries in the Americas, including the Caribbean.

PAHO Director Dr. Carissa Etienne says after two consecutive months of decline, COVID infections are increasing. She says over the last week 700,000 new cases and 13,000 COVID related deaths were reported in the Americas.

Dr. Etienne points out that in the Caribbean, while Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico have reported decreases in new infections, cases are rising in the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados. She says the Cayman Islands and Dominica are also experiencing a high number of cases.

PAHO’s Director of Health Emergencies Dr. Ciro Ugarte notes most of the Caribbean countries show a case fatality rate below 2 per cent. Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Grenada, and Trinidad and Tobago have a case fatality rate above 2 per cent but below 3 per cent.

He says it demonstrates all the measures taken in terms of protecting the population which includes having hospitals and ICUs available, ‘shows control of the pandemic is quite well.’

However, Dr. Ugarte says when economies are reopening and there is more possibility of transmission among the local population and international travellers, it is important to keep track of the availability of ICU beds as most of these countries have limited capacity in ICU beds.

The Director of Health Emergencies says although PAHO has been working closely with many of those countries to increase their capacity of ICU beds, some locations need not only equipment and ICU beds, but also health personnel to treat patients.

But there is good news for the region in terms of vaccination. PAHO Director Carissa Etienne says vaccinations continue to pick up in the region where some 48 per cent of people in Latin America and the Caribbean have been fully immunised against COVID-19.

However, coverage remains lower in some countries as she says in Jamaica and St Vincent and the Grenadines, less than one in five people have been vaccinated and protected, while in Haiti less than one per cent of people has been fully vaccinated.

The PAHO Director says this inequity must be addressed as she notes the organisation is committed to help countries in the region secure the vaccines they need.

PAHO is working with manufacturers to secure additional doses on behalf of the region and has signed supply agreements with three manufactures who are WHO emergency use listed vaccines and is in final negotiations with a fourth supplier, a mRNA vaccine producer. This is being done to expand vaccine options for countries in 2021 and 2022.

PAHO is also working with public institutions and private companies in Argentina and Brazil to strengthen their capacity to develop and produce COVID mRNA vaccines in the region that will benefit all countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Dr. Etienne says this is a strategic and long-term project to ‘reduce our vulnerability and dependence by establishing the regional capacity for this innovative technology.’

In her closing statement the PAHO Director notes in the Caribbean, there is still rising vaccine hesitancy. She says while many people may be tired of the pandemic, it is not over yet, and now is not the time to relax public health and social distancing measures, which is what PAHO has been observing.

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