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PAHO director: COVID-19 threatening fight against infectious diseases

GERCINE CARTER, [email protected]

PAHO director: COVID-19 threatening fight against infectious diseases

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Director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) Dr Carissa F. Etienne has warned that the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is threatening to set the region back in its fight against diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis (TB) and mosquito-borne diseases.

In a webinar media briefing Tuesday, Etienne said just as the region was making significant progress against neglected tropical diseases, the pandemic “interrupted the mass drug administration campaigns that are vital to the elimination efforts”.

She said such disruptions were likely to drive infection rates up in the coming months and predicted that: “In the short term this means that more people will die from preventable and treatable conditions and in the long term, the progress that we have made in recent decades could be lost in a few months. Yet she said all was not lost as it was ‘not too late to prevent these outcomes’.”

Etienne said over 80 per cent of the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean were reporting challenges in the delivery of tuberculosis treatment and cautioned that patients who skipped doses or interrupted their treatment, were in danger of a manageable condition “quickly turning into an active infection that threatens not only the patient, but also their family and close acquaintances”.

Etienne said while the region had managed to effectively treat HIV and several countries had successfully eliminated HIV transmission from mothers to their newborns, PAHO’s data indicated that 30 per cent of people living with HIV were avoiding seeking care during the pandemic, while at the same time, countries had limited supplies of antiretroviral drugs.

“This is worrisome indeed, since without continued care and consistent medications, people living with HIV are more likely to become ill and to pass on HIV to their partners,” she said.

The health expert also sent a strong message to the region’s young people, warning that “young people do not have special powers against COVID-19”.

Instead she said they were also at risk for “severe sickness, hospitalisation and even death”. (GC)