COVID-19 outbreaks to continue over next two years, says PAHO

COVID-19 outbreaks to continue over next two years, says PAHO

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Dr Carissa Etienne said while the region has adverted “greater tragedy” due to the early adoption of public health measures, countries should expect recurring COVID-19 outbreaks over the next two years.

She said countries must be realistic about the future and learn to adjust to a new way of life.

“The question is no longer, how do we go back to the way things were before, but rather, how do we move forward and build a sustainable and effective outbreak response,” said Etienne, during a PAHO virtual press conference with regional stakeholders.

She continued: “In the absence of effective treatments or a widely available vaccine, we expect that over the next two years, the region of the Americas will experience recurring COVID-19 outbreaks, which may be interspersed with periods of limited transmission.”

After rapid increases in infections, particularly in April and May, The Bahamas has flattened the curve in recent weeks.

As of Wednesday, there were 104 confirmed cases in The Bahamas, of which nine were active.

There have been four new infections in over three weeks.

The downward trend and concerns about the protracted economic slowdown has prompted easing of restrictions and a gradual reopening of The Bahamas’ borders.

However, cases of the virus continue to surge in other jurisdictions in close proximity to The Bahamas, namely the United States, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Yesterday, Etienne said these recent increases in infections were concerning, and governments have felt pressure to ease restrictions for “economic and political reasons even while transmission is increasing”.

She acknowledged countries must balance the “triple threat” the pandemic poses to the health, social welfare and national economies, and remain flexible in its response.

Bipartisanship

Etienne also called upon leaders to cross political divides, stressing cooperation could “make or break or response”.

“Now is the time for leaders to reach across political divisions and geographical borders to rally the support for a response that is commensurate to the unprecedented crisis,” the director said.

“Each country will need to adjust and coordinate their COVID-19 response based on increasingly detailed data. Governments will have to make decisions considering simultaneously health, economic and social indicators.

“This will allow health officials to understand where transmission is accelerating and which groups are at greater risks, so as to better target their efforts.

“Flexibility will be key and public health measures as well as social protections efforts will need to be reviewed regularly to minimize the impact of the virus in our societies.”

PAHO plans to release new recommendations on the ongoing health crisis, according to Etienne, who said these guidelines with help to navigate a course over the next two years.

Etienne said the crisis will not be overcome without countries addressing the needs of their most vulnerable citizens —  those most likely to become sick and the least likely to receive care, including “urban poor” and migrant populations.

“If we neglect them, we run the risk of next two years looking like the past few months and this should not happen,” she said.

She also stressed the importance of accurate data collection, ongoing testing, contact tracing and quarantine measures.

PAHO plans to release new recommendations on the ongoing health crisis, according to Etienne, who said these guidelines with help to navigate a course over the next two years.

Financial response

PAHO has recommended at least six percent of GDP be expended to strengthen public health and 30 percent from all public health expenditure be allocated to the first level of care.

The Minnis administration has budgeted an estimated $2.57 billion in recurrent expenditure in the upcoming fiscal period 2020/2021 — a $113 million reduction in recurrent spending.

Of that figure, $298 million will be allocated to the Ministry of Health and $45 million to the Department of Public Health — a combined 13 percent of the budget.

Another $278 million or 10.8 percent of the budget has been allocated for social benefits, and a further $33.4 million or 1.3 percent on employer social contributions.

In his wrap up to the budget debate on Monday, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said it was the government’s obligation and responsibility to “respond boldly, creatively and with compassion, especially to aid the poor and vulnerable”.