WASHINGTON, DC – As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the Americas, with new infections increasing by 13.9 percent from last week, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director, Dr. Carissa Etienne on Wednesday called for countries to prepare their health systems to address the long-term impact of post-COVID condition, commonly known as long COVID, which may impact many in the region.
Estimates suggest that 10-20 percent of people who have had COVID-19 may go on to experience symptoms, including persistent and severe fatigue, shortness of breath, and mental health issues.
And with the Americas reporting over 161 million COVID-19 cases over the past two years, hundreds of thousands of people in the region, if not millions, could potentially be affected.
“The pandemic has surprised us time and time again, and many of its effects will linger for years to come,” Dr. Etienne said during a media briefing.
She highlighted that those with pre-existing conditions are particularly at risk of long COVID, as are those that smoke and vape, and those who have not been vaccinated.
“The best way to avoid post-COVID condition is by not getting COVID,” the PAHO director said.
Masking and social distancing are still key tools, particularly in areas of high transmission, and vaccines also have a vital role to play in avoiding the worst consequences of the pandemic, she noted.
Studies show that those who contract COVID-19 after vaccination have milder symptoms and are less likely to develop post-COVID condition.
“But 224 million people have not yet received a single shot of vaccine in our region,” Dr. Etienne said. “We need to pick up the pace of vaccination to shield populations from the worst consequences of this virus.”
She also called for increased support for patients with post-COVID condition and for health systems to “acknowledge this long-lasting effect of the pandemic and help address it”.
“This is a real condition, and it must be dealt with by applying robust policies and guidance,” Dr. Etienne said. “It is also crucial that we recognize the impact that post-COVID condition has on people’s lives and work alongside those affected to ensure that their voices are heard.”
Turning to the COVID-19 situation in the region, cases have begun to plateau over the past two weeks in the Caribbean, with countries reporting a 3.2 percent increase over the past week.
“These numbers serve as a stark reminder that too many people are still vulnerable,” Dr. Etienne said. “Let us embrace the means we have today to prevent the worst consequences of COVID and help us turn the page on this pandemic.”