PAHO Director, Dr Carissa Etienne
PAHO Director: Protect them!
Pan American Health Organisation Director, Dr Carissa Etienne has recommended specific policy protection for the most vulnerable in the region.
The regional director explained during a recent virtual press briefing that specific policy was required to protect groups at greater risk due to social barriers, including women, people of African descent, the indigenous population, prisoners, migrants and persons with underlying health issues.
“Protecting vulnerable groups is critical to addressing the health, social and economic emergencies and winning the fight against COVID-19. It is necessary because we cannot stop the spread of the virus if we do not focus on all those affected by it, including vulnerable populations. It is also our responsibility because everyone has the right to health, to access testing, treatment, and care, regardless of who they are or where they live,” highlighted the PAHO leader.
Dr. Etienne contended that women, in general, are disproportionately affected by health crises, and there had been no change during the pandemic.
“Women in our region face income disparity, lack of adequate access to health services and are often subject to gender-based violence. In addition, women make up 70 per cent of the health workforce in the Americas. So that is it to say they are on the frontlines and are disproportionately affected by COVID 19,” said Dr. Etienne.
Regarding people of African descent in Latin America, Etienne highlighted that they struggled to access appropriate care in normal circumstances and that it was a reflection of structural discrimination and racial inequity. ecause of this inequality, the director put forward that these conditions put them at greater danger of contracting COVID-19, and could face the most severe consequences of the disease.
In addition, the indigenous populations, face high rates of food insecurity, Type 2 diabetes and are affected by endemic diseases such as TB and Malaria. The situation places them in the precarious position of suffering a higher burden of the pandemic.
“When they live in isolation or remote areas, they face challenges from the interactions with non-indigenous groups who may be carriers for COVID-19 and other diseases and at the same time will struggle to access health services in both small villages and large cities,” explained Dr. Etienne.
The director also pointed out that the rapid spread of the virus affected overcrowded and poorly sanitised prisons in the region, thus making it difficult for prisoners to combat the virus. She also stated that the same rang true for migrants living in temporary settlements, or in the process of migrating, where access to health care services is very often limited.
The final group highlighted by Dr. Etienne was those with underlying health conditions, where she stated that this group was particularly susceptible to hospitalisation, severe illness, and death due to COVID-19.
“Unfortunately, almost 221 million people in our region are at increased risk because they have an underlying condition, including people with non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and diabetes,” said the director.
Explaining further, she said that the risk for this group was greater not just of contracting COVID-19, but it was raised because of the disruption of management and care of usually manageable diseases due to healthcare services being overwhelmed. (AS)