Barbados, Caribbean and Latin American countries should expect a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths over the next “three to six weeks” and an overwhelming strain on the health care system, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) has warned.
But PAHO officials have praised Barbadian authorities for building capacity to adequately deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and assist other countries.
During PAHO’s weekly information session on Tuesday, Director Dr Carissa Etienne declared: “The situation is going to get worse before it gets better and therefore all of us need to be prepared for more difficult weeks ahead.”
Dr Etienne said: “We do believe that in the next three to six weeks that many of our countries will begin to see an increase in the number of cases. Some of our countries will probably experience an overwhelming of their health systems and we will also see an increase number of deaths.
“Within the Americas the situation can be different from country to country.”
She continued: “My friends, days ahead will be some of the hardest of our professional lives.
“It is going to test our systems and our capacity more than they have ever been tested before. We are counting on you, on your ability to thrive under pressure, respond to challenges and fulfil your commitment to the people that we serve.”
Director of Health Emergencies Dr Ciro Ugarte said to date there have been no reported case of community transmission in the Caribbean “according to the World Health Organisation’s standards”, except for a handful of countries.
“We would like to highlight specifically in Barbados, Barbados has been establishing and strengthening its capacity to help other countries,” said Ugarte without mentioning specific cases.
Towards the end of last month, Government came to the rescue of 35 Trinidadians returning from England, after they were left stranded due to the closure of their country’s borders.
Barbados has also been accommodating the docking of several ships off its shores and had carried out several COVID-19 tests on at least one of those ships.
Ugarte said: “Barbados has established an emergency medical team, and this is something we will look at in terms of having that capacity also to service of all the countries in the Caribbean. That is a good approach, but also it shows the solidarity that the Caribbean has always shown to the region.”
The number of positive COVID-19 cases in the Americas stood at 385,000, with 11,270 deaths as at April 6.
Here, the number of cases stand at 63, with three deaths. There have been six recoveries.
In her opening statement, Dr Etienne warned that the viral infection was spreading rapidly and urged governments in the region to “prepare and respond at the same speed”.
Insisting on the need for solidarity in the fight against the COVID-19 spread, she said shortages of the most basic protective equipment could leave doctors, nurses and other frontline workers “dangerously vulnerable as they care for COVID-19 patients”.
Dr Etienne said: “Countries must work together to ensure that supply chains are able to deliver protective equipment to the hospitals and health centres – those who need it most. Solidarity and coordination among countries will be essential to ensure that we make the most of the limited supplies available. Now is not the time to hoard and stockpile.
“It is a time for easing export restrictions and embracing flexible regulations that enable access in the places that will be hardest hit in the next few weeks.”
She called on the private sector and governments to boost production of protective gear.
While forecasting is difficult, PAHO is predicting on increase in positive COVID-19 cases and deaths, based on the current analysis, she said.
But the forecast depends heavily on how well countries are able to implement their social distancing rules, she added.
She said she was satisfied that “aggressive contact tracing” was taking place in the Caribbean, while giving the assurance that PAHO has been involved in advanced planning with health authorities over the last three months to prepare for the challenges associated with caring for COVID-19 patients.
“We have developed technical guidelines and trained the national staff on the reorganisation of health services particularly for triage, isolation and intensive care patients,” she said, as she urged countries to “seek support and speak up when you need help and resources”.