Caribbean countries encouraged to intensify plans to prepare for coronavirus

The Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr Carissa F. Etienne, on Wednesday urged the Caribbean and other countries in the Americas to intensify their plans to prepare and respond to COVID-19, given the appearance of cases of new coronavirus disease in the Region of the Americas.

Jamaica’s Minister of Health and Wellness Christopher Tufton (left) tests a handheld thermal scanner on Public Health Nurse, Deborah Udo Udo, during a tour of the isolation unit at the Norman Manley International Airport (NMIA) in Kingston recently.

According to PAHO, the Ministry of Health of Brazil confirmed the country’s first case of COVID-19 on February 26. 

The patient is a 61-year-old man who recently returned from travel to Italy, where an outbreak of the virus has been ongoing since last week.

“A strong emphasis on stopping transmission continues to be an important objective.”

— PAHO’s Dr Carissa F. Etienne

To date, COVID-19 has already affected 81,109 people in 38 countries of the world, 78,191 of them in China, according to the World Health Organization. 

“For several weeks, countries in the Americas have been preparing for the possible importation of cases of COVID-19. There are measures in place for detecting, diagnosing and caring for patients with the disease,” said Etienne. 

Tailored responses

“A strong emphasis on stopping transmission continues to be an important objective while recognising that the situation may vary from country to country and will require tailored responses,” she added. 

“A multisectoral response to ensure strengthened surveillance, health service readiness, preventing spread, and maintaining essential services, are key interventions to slow transmission and save lives. 

“Countries of the Americas have already been working on these areas since 2009 as part of their pandemic influenza plans,”  Etienne continued. “PAHO stands ready to support countries in rolling out these plans.”

PAHO said COVID-19 is transmitted from person to person through droplets and in contact with contaminated surfaces. 

It said the disease is spread primarily by people who already show symptoms. 

Current information suggests that a single infected person can infect between 1 to 4 close contacts.

In the event of an outbreak of COVID-19 in Latin America and the Caribbean, PAHO warned that the impact on health services may be significant with the possibility that health services may become overwhelmed, including a high demand for specialised hospital services such as intensive care.