NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Dr Carissa Etienne today said the organization remains concerned about trends indicating non-COVID-19 patients are not seeking medical due to virus fears.
Etienne said while healthcare systems in countries throughout the region have prioritized COVID-19 response, they must strive to maintain a level of response in other health sectors to avoid unnecessary patient complications and deaths.
She was asked at a PAHO virtual press conference whether the COVID-19 response has taken away from access to other health services.
“What we are seeing now is that many countries in our region face what is a heavy double burden of responding to COVID-19 while trying to deliver essential health services,” Etienne said.
She said the pandemic has severely impacted health services in numerous countries, which has resulted in an overwhelming of some of these health systems.
She said PAHO has received reports of healthcare personnel being withdrawn from the first level of care to provide care in hospitals, though she did not state where these reports originated.
These include maternal care, prenatal care and delivery services; immunization; mental health; continued care and access to treatment of non-communicable diseases, including cancers.
Etienne said without maintaining these area “we risk having epidemics within the pandemic or having increased deaths from what are preventable causes”.
During a separate panel discussion this morning, Dr Sam Fahmy of Baptist Health South Florida, which has local representation in The Bahamas, said it is critical for people to continue getting medical care.
“We see a clear decline in the number of people who have serious conditions who have chosen not to come in and get them taken care of,” said Fahmy, who was referring to patients of Baptist Health.
“That puts them at higher risk.
“So, if I leave with one message I’d say, don’t let COVID scare you away from coming and getting the medical care that you need that may help save you some serious complications down the road. Get it done now.
“The risk of COVID infection in the hospital is very, very low and you need to get those issues taken care of if they arise.”
Fahmy noted people have been weighing the risk and benefits of presenting for medical care because of fears.
However, he said: “You can could be putting yourself at serious risk of complications or even death if it is a serious condition such as a heart attack or stroke or other serious illnesses, so if you go to the emergency department it does not mean you will be automatically be exposed to COVID-19.”
Baptist Health has implemented a wide range of best practices to minimize the risk of exposure, including temperature scanning and where necessary test presenting patients and staff upon entering the hospital; treating COVID-19 patients in a separate, controlled section of the hospital and examining it practices and protocols, which has been a multi-agency, collaborative effort.