PAHO director calls for intensified health response in Haiti to reverse rapidly deteriorating COVID conditions

PAHO director calls for intensified health response in Haiti to reverse rapidly deteriorating COVID conditions

PAHO is assisting with vaccine delivery, scaled-up testing and increased PPE for health workers

Bahamas has banned travel from Haiti since February

WASHINGTON, DC — Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa F Etienne warned that the COVID-19 response in Haiti must be scaled up dramatically to cope with sharply escalating cases, hospitalizations and deaths in recent weeks.

“We call on partners and organizations working in Haiti to urgently reinforce the response to COVID-19,” Etienne said at her weekly media briefing. “The country will need additional health capacity, as well as support to embrace preventive measures required to curb transmission. Both will be decisive in the coming weeks. There is no time to waste.”

The Bahamas government has banned travel from Haiti since February 15, with officials citing Haiti’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason.

The ban has been extended several times and currently remains in effect up until next week, although it is unclear whether it will be extended again.

PAHO is working with Haiti’s Ministry of Public Health and Population to scale up care for infected people and increase supplies of protective equipment for health workers. It is also collaborating to reduce transmission through increased testing, which allows for identification and quarantine of infected people.

PAHO will also facilitate the upcoming delivery of the first doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to Haiti. The vaccines were procured through COVAX, the global alliance to ensure equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

Etienne said: “A very high priority is to offer vaccination to all frontline health workers over 18 years of age.”

She explained that the increased transmission is likely fueled by two variants of concern, B 1.1.7 and P1, and because public health measures are “being largely ignored by the general population, the situation we’re seeing in Haiti is a cautionary tale in just how quickly things can change with this virus”.

Turning to conditions in the rest of the Caribbean and Latin America, Etienne reported that rapidly increasing cases and deaths have nearly doubled in the first five months of the year.

Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa F Etienne.

“Wishful thinking will not resolve this crisis,” she warned. “We need action.”

She said regional leadership must be united around stopping the virus.

“This pandemic has taught us time and again that leadership determines the effectiveness of a country’s response. Sadly, across our region, we’ve seen misinformation about COVID-19 sow doubt on proven health measures, often in the context of political disputes.”

Access to vaccines urgently needs to increase, Etienne said. COVAX has already delivered 17.6 million doses to the region, but the quantity is not nearly enough. Some low-income countries are struggling to cover even their health workers and most vulnerable populations, she said.

“Effective vaccines are a beacon of hope in this crisis, and we must do all in our power to secure more doses for all nations in the Americas,” she said. “Regional solidarity, including the donation of vaccine doses, will be key to get us through the current shortage of supply.”

Etienne also said everyone must adhere to public health measures such as wearing masks, social distancing and washing hands. Increased mobility between and within countries and relaxation of the measures have created the “perfect environment” for the spread of the virus and its variants, she added.

“PAHO is doing and will continue to do its part to support the response to the pandemic in the Americas, grounded in science and solidarity,” she said. “But we can’t do this alone. We need leaders to prioritize the decisions required to stop this virus in its track.”