PAHO Director Calls for Protection of Health Workers in the Caribbean

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Dr. Carissa F. Etienne

WASHINGTON, Apr. 8 CMC – The Pan American Health ORganisation (PAHO) has urged countries in the region to protect health care workers by ensuring that they have access to personal protective equipment and supplies needed to care for patients affected by COVID-19.

The plea was made by PAHO’s Dominican born Director, Dr. Carissa F. Etienne who was speaking during a press briefing on Tuesday.

“Shortages of the most basic protective equipment leave doctors, nurses and other frontline workers dangerously vulnerable as they care for COVID-19 patients.”

Through April 6, PAHO said 384,435 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the Americas, and 11,270 people have lost their lives.

“In just seven days, we witnessed cases and deaths more than double in our region,” Dr. Etienne said. “The pandemic is accelerating rapidly, and I urge governments to prepare and respond at the same speed.”

Etienne urged countries to follow PAHO guidelines and recommendations, including social distancing measures, to lessen the burden on health systems.

“All of us need to be prepared for more difficult weeks ahead,” she said. “A pandemic like COVID-19 would overwhelm any health system, but its impact on those without sufficient health workers will be devastating.

“Limited supplies of gloves, medical masks, respirators, goggles and gowns can lead to a wave of preventable infections among health workers,” she added. “Countries must work together to ensure that supply chains are able to deliver protective equipment to the hospitals and health centers who need it most.

“Solidarity and coordination among countries will be essential to ensure we make the most of the limited supplies available,” Etienne continued.

Noting that April 7 was World Health Day, Etienne said this is “a time to acknowledge and celebrate doctors, nurses, midwives and the many other people working to keep our communities healthy.

“Our health workers deserve our recognition, our praise and our gratitude,” she said. “Above all, they deserve to be able to protect themselves while they do their jobs.

“Now is not the time to hoard and stockpile,” the PAHO director added. “It is a time for easing export restrictions and embracing flexible regulations that enable access in the places that will be hardest hit in the next few weeks.”

She said governments and the private sector should also seek innovative solutions to boost production and repurpose industrial capacity to expand supplies.

“We must also care for our health workers through support networks that allow them to preserve their mental and physical health,” Dr. Etienne said.

“We must celebrate them for the heroes they are and protect them from stigma,” she added. “We should encourage and admire our health workers, not fear and disrespect them.”

In addition to developing technical guidelines, PAHO said it has trained national staff on the reorganization of health services and has also advised countries regarding stocks of medical supplies and personal protection equipment (PPEs).

PAHO said it has supported countries to obtain shipments of PPEs to 35 countries and one territory, and COVID test kits to 25 countries, among other actions.

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