Pan-American Health Organization: Covid-19 will “Intensify”, More Tests Needed

Photo: EFE / Confidencial

Nicaragua continues ignoring the regional health organization’s recommendations for combatting the Coronavirus pandemic

By Ivette Munguia (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – While the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health (Minsa) has announced it will perform fifty tests a day to “broaden” the sample for detecting Covid-19 in Nicaragua, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) on Tuesday, April 14, urged the countries of the region to “accelerate and expand testing” to obtain a more precise understanding of the pandemic.

In an online press conference, Carissa Etienne, PAHO director, highlighted the importance of having access to high quality rapid results testing “in sufficient quantities” so as to be able to respond to the Coronavirus. According to data from this organization, there are now 610,744 confirmed cases of the virus on the American continent, with 23,753 deaths. At the moment, the vast majority of both are in the United States.

“Covid-19 still hasn’t struck our region with full force, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean, and we expect it to intensify in the coming weeks,” Etienne stated.

This past Monday, April 13, Confidencial revealed a new document with Minsa’s revised guidelines for keeping a watch on respiratory diseases. In this, they speak of: “broadening the sampling for opportune detection of suspected cases of Covid-19” to 50 tests daily on a national level. Epidemiologists and experts consider this number to be far beneath the recommended quantity.

In addition, the government continues refusing to reveal the number of tests conducted to date, and remains silent on the subject of the 26,000 rapid response test kits that the Central American Bank for Economic Integration has given them. Not even Minsa’s new directives mention these donated tests from the multilateral organization.

Sylvain Aldighieri, assistant director of PAHO’s Department of Health Emergencies and Covid-19 Incident Manager, explained that since the end of January the organization has given out more than 500,000 tests to 36 countries on the American continent. He added that they’re planning to send out 1.5 million more in the next week, and the organization’s objectives include distributing another three million tests before the end of April. Nonetheless, he didn’t specify the exact quantities destined for each country.

Social Distancing, an opportune measure

PAHO assistant director Jarbas Barbosa recognized that the pandemic presents a huge challenge for those countries with the fewest resources, including few ICU beds and ventilators. Because of that, he believes that it’s still more important for these countries to take measures to assure social distancing to reduce the rapid spread of the virus.

Nevertheless, Nicaragua is the only country in the region that is still holding mass concentrations, initiated by the government itself. During the Easter Week, thousands of Sandinista sympathizers once again challenged the pandemic with large-scale excursions to popular bathing spots and with open parties. The government hasn’t revealed how many ventilators are available, although doctors from different hospitals that were consulted by Confidencial agreed that there are barely 160 ventilators available, of which some 80% are needed for patients with other conditions.

For several months, PAHO has been distributing laboratory tests and protective equipment in the Central American region. On the other hand, Barbosa asked for more international solidarity to increase access to personal protective equipment for the countries with the fewest resources and weakest health systems on the continent.

The number of cases of Covid-19 worldwide as confirmed by PAHO this Tuesday had reached 1.84 million, with 70,000 new infections in the 24 hours previous to that date, while the number of deaths was at 117,021.

Europe continues to be the most highly affected region, with more than 943,000 infections, followed by the USA with nearly 645,000, while Africa, currently the zone with the fewest cases, on Monday crossed the 10,000 mark.

Etienne stated that the leaders should work on the implementation of social distancing to win the trust of the population. If they don’t do so, “they risk prolonging this crisis,” she alerted.

The PAHO director added: “Don’t be mistaken, economic activity will return only when people feel secure, when they feel that they can trust that their governments are doing everything possible to protect them and their loved ones. I urge the leaders of this region to earn this trust by basing their actions on rigorous evidence and total transparency in this fight against the epidemic.”

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