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Avellon Williams

TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO- Vaccines, surveillance, mask wear, and social distancing are among the tools proven to keep communities safe, according to Dr. Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). A growing number of Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases has raised concerns about the region in the run-up to the festive period.

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Moreover, she said the measures are necessary because seasonal influenza is on the rise, and a spike in cases of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).

“The rise of a single respiratory infection is a cause for concern. When two or three start impacting a population concurrently, this should put us all on alert,” she told a news conference.

Over the past week, PAHO reported an increase of 17 percent in COVID-19 cases in the region, and South American and Central American deaths increased. There may be an underestimation of the number of infections due to a reduction in testing.

Dr. Carissa Etienne /Image, EN/

According to Dominican-born Dr. Etienne, “the situation can change quickly. Every time we become complacent with this virus, we run the risk of resurgence. We cannot lower our guard.” 

PAHO noted that influenza cases in North America are increasing and that out-of-season increases are also occurring in the Southern Cone, particularly in Argentina and Uruguay. These increases are placing unexpected strain on health systems.

Similarly, RSV infections have increased significantly in Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Uruguay, and the United States, affecting especially children and young infants.

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In addition to mask-wearing and social distancing, Dr. Etienne pointed out that strategies used to control COVID-19 can also be applied to other respiratory diseases, such as RSV, which has no vaccine at present.

As part of disease surveillance, countries must also continue to promote vaccination against influenza and COVID-19.

Vaccine doses against COVID-19 have been procured by the PAHO Revolving Fund for member countries this year in an amount of 39.5 million, and influenza vaccine doses to member states of 31 million.

We have enough vaccines to keep us all safe. Let’s use them,” Dr. Etienne said, noting that the cholera situation in Haiti continues to worsen, with over 700 confirmed cases since early October, 7,000 suspected cases, and 144 deaths.

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According to her, PAHO continues to provide life-saving care to patients in Haiti, deploy health workers, and facilitate access to fuel for health facilities, but other countries must increase their efforts.

It has been reported that monkeypox infections have declined in most of the severely affected countries, but he urged countries to continue engagement with those at risk “to drive cases to zero as soon as possible.”

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According to her, there haven’t been any further cases of polio reported in the region, even though vaccination rates are historically low.

We must remember that polio spreads silently, and it has no cure or treatment. Vaccines are our best tool to prevent this disease. As we head into the holiday season and travel to visit family and friends, people must remain vigilant about all these health threats and learn from the lessons of COVID-19.

“We have the tools at our disposal to limit the impact of severe respiratory diseases, and we must continue to respond to these crises as a region. Let’s not take these lessons for granted,” Dr.Etienne added.

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Avellon Williams

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