Dr Carissa Etienne

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As COVID-19 vaccination campaigns begin in various parts of the region, including Trinidad and Tobago, PAHO Director, Dr Carissa Etienne has reminded governments in the region to ensure there is equitable distribution.

In PAHO’s virtual weekly press briefing yesterday, Etienne said: “This is important for the Americas, where there are migrants, indigenous communities, and many people who live in rural and remote locations, with limited care, have been especially at risk.”

With COVID-19 infections continuing to surge throughout the Americas with 1.3 million new cases occurring last week in the region and more than 37,000 deaths, Etienne disclosed that nearly a quarter of the region’s population was at risk of severe COVID-19-related infections due to underlying health conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. She said more than half of all global deaths reported over the last week, occurred in the Americas.

As the world observed World Health Day yesterday with the theme ‘Building a fairer healthier world’, Etienne said there was the need for the strong reminder to the region to act with a certain level of urgency to address access to its populations who live in vulnerable conditions to populations who have so long been neglected.

“If we are to stop COVID-19 and recover in a sustainable way, attention must be paid to the inequalities existing in the region and we must begin to confront and address them,” she warned.

She said the COVAX mechanism was designed to reduce COVID nationalism.

She explained, COVAX was a global approach to the pandemic to ensure that people throughout the world get access to COVID-19 vaccines as they become available, regardless of their wealth.

Notwithstanding that it will take time to manufacture and distribute enough vaccines to all countries through the COVAX mechanism, Etienne said it continued to be an important approach to resolve some of the inequities the region faces.

Responding to the question about how inequality in the region has affected the COVID-19 response, Etienne highlighted women were shouldering the burden both at home and at work.

“In addition to caring for dependents, women represent 70 per cent of our health workforce and many of them work as essential workers in grocery stores, public transportation, and child care facilities. This morning we heard from an association of home workers and how little attention has been given to them in terms of prioritisation.”

She said children were also severely affected by the pandemic with 140 million children across the region remaining out of the classroom and falling further behind in their schooling.

She said over the last year the virus had greatly deepened the inequities that long divided the region: “While when we have all been affected by this pandemic. We have not been all impacted equally and we must continue to remember this. As I said, to fight COVID-19 effectively, we must address these inequalities and support the most vulnerable as they struggle to protect themselves.”