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Dr. Yitades Gebre, PAHO/WHO Representative for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Countries.

Need for dengue response in midst of the COVID-19 pandemic

Health officials in Barbados and other Eastern Caribbean countries are being cautioned to scale up efforts to prevent the occurrence of severe dengue fever outbreaks, even as they focus on continuously battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

The critical piece of advice came from Dr. Yitades Gebre, PAHO/WHO Representative for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Countries. He was at the time delivering remarks during a webinar hosted by PAHO, focusing on the “Dengue Response in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic". The webinar provided a forum for sharing information on effective outbreak containment strategies for dengue, and how to build a sustainable response. 

Dr. Gebre meanwhile stressed that policies, strategies and plans for dealing with both diseases at all levels of the health care delivery system, should be given priority at this time.

“Late July, we issued an advisory to our member states, that in the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the potential seasonal increase in dengue cases endemic in countries was presenting a challenge for both the population at large and both the health services providers, who would be responding to concomitant emergencies,” he remarked.

Dr. Gebre went on to point out a number of challenges that could affect how dengue is dealt with, acknowledging that at present, the health care services may place more focus on COVID-19, thus putting less of a focus on dengue fever, which may be seen as secondary. Also, due to the pandemic, there may be a fear of exposure to COVID and people may not come forward to the relevant facilities to have a medical consultation, thus affecting the containment measures for dengue fever.

He meanwhile stressed, “This dengue outbreak which we are facing in most of the Eastern Caribbean countries, concurrently with the COVID-19 pandemic, has resulted in an additional significant health burden and increase in the demand for resources, required for an effective response.”

“The devastating economic losses brought about by COVID-19, also presents an insurmountable challenge for countries that already have limited responses and resource capacities,” he added.

Dr. Gebre however maintained that the early recognition of persons with dengue is the first step in preventing the progression of the severity of the disease. Thus, the capacity of health care workers to deliver that first level of care in the diagnosis and appropriate management of dengue, needs to be enhanced. 

Noting that PAHO has been working with countries in the region, especially those with the highest burden of dengue disease to accelerate implementation of their Integrated Management Strategies for Dengue response plan, Dr. Gebre noted that the organisation will also be giving other forms of support, as needed. (RSM)

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