PAHO director Dr Carissa Etienne

Political disputes are leading to misinformation which is undermining COVID-19 public health measures within the region, Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) Director Dr Carissa Etienne has lamented.

Noting that deaths and infections have doubled within the first five months of this year, Etienne said leaders must put forward a united front to stop this outbreak. Her comments came mere days after Movement of Social Justice (MSJ) leader David Abdulah suggested that Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar co-chair a roundtable to deal with the pandemic. Speaking at PAHO’s weekly press briefing on COVID-19, Etienne said 1.1 million new cases and over 25,000 COVID-19 related deaths were reported in the region over the last week.

“After weeks of plateauing and even decreasing figures, COVID-19 infections are back on the rise in all sub-regions, except in North America.”

Meanwhile, she said within the Caribbean islands, Saint Martin, Trinidad and Tobago and the Dominican Republic are also reporting a surge in infections. However, she was particularly concerned about the situation in Haiti, where sources have reported sharp increases in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in recent weeks.

Asserting the crisis can be resolved through action and not wishful thinking, she said, “So, please let me remind you of what needs to be done to stop this outbreak. The first thing is effective leadership. This pandemic has taught us time and again that leadership determines the effectiveness of a country’s response. Sadly, across our region, we’ve seen misinformation about COVID-19 and this has sown doubt on proven health measures, often in the context of political disputes. By stoking controversy where there is none, our leaders are sending mixed messages to the public and standing in a way of effective measures to control the virus. We must unite around stopping this virus – and this should be the priority.”

Also, she said boosting access to vaccines is also urgently required.

While COVAX has already delivered some 17.6 million doses to the region, she said progress is not keeping up with the pandemic.

Reminding that public health measures remain the best way to save lives, she said. “Mobility data from across our region shows there is more movement within and between countries now than at any other point during this pandemic. When you combine this mobility with the premature relaxing of public health measures, what you get is the perfect environment for the virus – and its variants – to spread.” While PAHO is doing its part to support the response to the pandemic in the Americas, Etienne said leaders need to prioritize the decisions that are required to stop the virus in its track.