WASHINGTON, D.C. – COVID-19 cases are on the decline in most Caribbean countries, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Dr. Carissa Etienne reported on Wednesday.
Speaking at her weekly press conference, she said infections were down overall, except in Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia and the Cayman Islands, which reported the highest weekly incidence in the Americas.
Over the past week, the Americas reported over 926,056 new COVID-19 infections – an 18.4 per cent increase in COVID cases from the previous week.
Dr. Etienne lamented that vaccine inequity continues to divide the region.
Noting that COVID-19 infections tripled in 2021 and health systems struggled to cope, she said gaps in vaccine access must be urgently addressed to ensure everyone is protected.
More than 1.3 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the Americas, and 56 per cent of people in Latin America and the Caribbean have been fully vaccinated.
Despite that coverage, the PAHO Director warned that “millions in our region have yet to receive a single dose”.
“Vaccine inequity continues to divide our region and if we don’t address these glaring gaps, we’ll fail to bring this virus under control,” she warned.
She added that countries must “heed the advice of the WHO, expert committees, scientists and regulators whose jobs it is to carefully review the safety and efficacy of drugs and recommend when, where and how to deploy them.”
But countries must also start preparing now to ensure timely and affordable access to such new treatments, she said.
The PAHO top official emphasized the importance of expanding regional production, “so countries don’t remain completely dependent on pharmaceutical imports.”
She said the region has the “technical expertise, a well-established manufacturing capacity, strong regulatory infrastructure, and an effective pooled procurement mechanism via our Strategic Fund” that, if leveraged, will help accelerate access to COVID technologies.
Most importantly, Dr. Etienne said, the region must continue to work together, as she pointed out that collaboration across borders enabled vaccines to be developed in record-time, variants identified quickly, and countries to adjust responses based on latest evidence.
“Each time we worked together, we had breakthroughs,” she said. “Sharing is central to defeating this pandemic.”
As the second year of the pandemic nears a close, the PAHO director called on the region to employ all resources available to bring the virus under control, including vaccines, masks, social distancing and surveillance.