Peruvian health authorities declared the end of the fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country and indicated that the disease “is in transition to an endemic phase” (Getty Images)
“Although it seems to us that it is over and that the danger is over, we insist on affirming that the COVID-19 pandemic is not over.” With this strong phrase, Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) opened the seminar “Three years of COVID-19 and other health issues in the Americas.”
Barbosa led the meeting full of PAHO experts who took stock of the coronavirus situation in the Americas region, while leaving signs for the future of how SARS-CoV-2 will behave and what are the best tools to get out of the current pandemic.
“The American continent has been one of the regions of the world hardest hit by the coronavirus. We have suffered 190 million positive cases, which represents 25% of the world total. But we have suffered 2.9 million deaths, which means 43% of the total on the planet in three years, ”said the specialist doctor during the conference attended by Infobae. In addition, he clarified that it has been a very difficult period for the region and that no country was prepared for the arrival of the new virus.
For several months the chinstrap was mandatory to use public transport
“Today we are in a totally different situation from the one we experienced three years ago. The incidence of COVID today is 20 or 30 times lower than last year and, in this sense, PAHO has managed to carry out very important work regarding the information necessary to face the pandemic and access to tools to combat it, such as vaccines ” , indicated Barbosa, who highlighted that America is the region with the second highest level of vaccination coverage in the world, with 71% of people vaccinated.
For this reason, the director of PAHO asked the countries that make up the American continent to maintain vigilance and observation of the pathogen. “The threat of the virus is still real,” warned Barbosa, who praised the work of PAHO in terms of articulating the regional variant sequencing network at the regional level, which contributed more than 580,000 SARS-CoV-2 sequences to the global network to monitor the COVID pandemic.
The PAHO Director also highlighted the Organization’s role in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, “mobilizing more than 160 million doses through COVAX and helping the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean to distribute more than 1.3 billion of doses in less than two years. Despite these achievements, Dr. Barbosa cautioned that “COVID-19 is still with us and the virus has yet to establish itself in a predictable pattern.” “In the last month, we have seen more than 1.5 million new cases and 17,000 deaths,” he said. “We cannot let our guard down.”
The pandemic forced the reformulation of prevention protocols (REUTERS / Thomas Peter)
Dr. Ciro Ugarte, Director of Health Emergencies at PAHO, also spoke at the virtual meeting and emphasized that we must continue to maintain vaccination as a priority for all people, while creating more and better access to continue with the High rates of protection against new variants of COVID concern.
“We have had great learning in the last three years regarding the health sector, in technology, in new ways of organizing ourselves, in protecting ourselves, in personal hygiene habits, in the use of a face mask, and gel, the way of greeting each other and new ways of coexistence. We must continue to take care of ourselves and focus on learning how to prevent the appearance of new pathogens. Many countries are still searching for the origin of COVID. Previous research on the appearance of other pandemics can help us in this search backwards so that we can later prevent future diseases,” said Ugarte.
Older adults have been one of the groups most affected by COVID (EFE/Juan Ignacio Roncoroni)
One of the most expressed concerns at the seminar were the registered cases of prolonged COVID or long covid, which are the manifestations of the coronavirus disease when more than three months elapse from the original infection. Dr. Marcos Espinal, Deputy Director of PAHO, said that the main symptoms people experience today are fatigue and mental health problems.
“They are the main conditions of prolonged COVID. And to avoid them in the future there are a series of treatments under study. It is also important to continue vaccinating ourselves against COVID, with the necessary reinforcements. We know that 10% of people who had coronavirus can develop post-COVID syndromes. And if we don’t get vaccinated, the risk is greater. Although it seems that COVID has passed and that prolonged COVID is the main public health danger, in reality it is the coronavirus pandemic,” Espinal said.
Meanwhile, Dr. Sylvain Aldighieri, PAHO Incident Manager for COVID-19, specified that “certain therapies have been effective for some long-term COVID conditions. PAHO has developed a rapid review with an updated platform to address all doubts. There are many new and reused drugs to test their efficacy against the prolonged symptoms of this disease,” he said.
And he highlighted the diagnostic methods that are now being developed: “Laboratory tests, imaging tests to detect clots, and arrhythmia detection tests are some of the tools we have.”
Vaccination is the best tool available to face the pandemic (REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha/File)
Finally, Barbosa said that the lessons we can learn from COVID are very important to deal with other recent health threats, such as bird flu. “We must build and strengthen existing surveillance systems to identify a change in a known disease or when a new one emerges. And have all the tools to act immediately, ”she said.
“In recent decades, when we look at emergencies like SARS, MERS, Influenza, COVID-19, we must remember that we always need to sharpen the spectrum of surveillance. Today we know that we must change it and make it more effective. It is necessary to look for how to have a better disease surveillance and prevention system so that they pass the biological barrier and can jump to humans. That is one of the most urgent challenges we have,” said the expert.
And he added: “In primary health care, there is a need to strengthen all measures. Work with communities to inform people, monitor patients, communicate with health authorities. And regarding COVID, identify the new variants to continue with the trend of reducing cases and number of deaths. And continue to vaccinate despite the continuous smear campaigns and false news about the effectiveness of vaccines.” This way one will be better prepared for a future emergency, he stressed.
“Reaching the 30% of people who have not yet received the primary series of the COVID-19 vaccine is also essential to prepare for any new wave of the virus or new variant of concern,” Barbosa concluded.
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