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CIDRAP - Latin America carries rising burden of global COVID-19 cases

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  • CIDRAP - Latin America carries rising burden of global COVID-19 cases


    Latin America carries rising burden of global COVID-19 cases
    Filed Under:
    Lisa Schnirring | News Editor | CIDRAP News
    | Jun 02, 2020

    The head of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said that about 250,000 of the world's 732,000 COVID-19 cases reported last week were from Latin America, which is concerning and underscores a need to double down on efforts to battle the virus, including ramping up testing.
    The global total today rose to 6,333,760 cases, and 378,240 people have died from their infections, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

    Overwhelmed health systems, not enough testing

    At a media briefing Carissa Etienne, MBBS, MSc, director of the World Health Organization's (WHO's) PAHO, said the Americas region is nearing 3 million cases, just under half of the world's cases. "The situation we face is dire, but not hopeless—as long as our approach to defeating the virus is based on solidarity. We must work together, share resources and apply the proven strategies we have learned along the way," she said.
    Etienne said Latin America faces several challenges, including people living in tightly packed megacities who are poor and don't have the means to isolate at home. "We are a region full of groups at greater risk of contracting and falling sick from the virus: indigenous populations, migrants, people with underlying health conditions like non-communicable diseases," she said.
    Some countries have had stay-at-home orders for a couple months and are starting to ease restrictions, but Etienne urged them to move slowly and to take a geographic approach based on local transmission patterns. She said though testing levels aren't optimal in the region and the need to expand testing is urgent, but she added that most countries have enough capability to track and monitor where the virus is spreading.
    Many countries are overwhelmed and working to the edge of their capacities, but Etienne added that health systems are rising to the occasion. For example, Marcos Espinal, MD, PhD, PAHO's director of communicable diseases, said Brazil's increases in cases and deaths are worrisome, and intensive care unit occupancy is at 80% in some areas. He added that the next 2 weeks are crucial and depend on states using a package of measures to battle virus activity.

    Africa sees steady rise in infections

    In the WHO's African region, cases increased markedly last week, by 26%, with 25 countries experiencing community transmission, the WHO's African regional office said today in its weekly emergencies and outbreaks report. As of today, the region has 108,121 cases, the lowest of the WHO's six regions. The WHO noted that imported cases, clusters in quarantine centers, and cases in prisons are on the rise.
    Situations in countries differ. For example, the three countries with the highest spikes last week were Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Mauritania. However, Seychelles and Eritrea haven't reported any cases in 54 and 42 days, respectively.
    The five hardest-hit countries are South Africa, Algeria, Nigeria, Ghana, and Cameroon.
    In other African developments, Zimbabwe's capital city, Harare, tightened a lockdown because of rising cases, which have tripled over the last few days, Reuters reported. Some residents charged that the lockdown was politically motivated to tamp down protests.
    And in Senegal, government officials yesterday postponed the reopening of schools after several teachers tested positive for the virus.

    Report: China slow to share early data

    An investigation by the Associated Press (AP) based on recordings of internal WHO meetings in January revealed that China was slow to release information about SARS-CoV-2, which frustrated the WHO as it mounted its response, though it repeatedly thanked and praised the country publicly in hopes of getting more information.
    News of a mysterious pneumonia outbreak broke in the final days of 2019, and during the week of Jan 6, WHO officials complained in meetings that China wasn't sharing enough information to assess the risk of human spread and the threat the virus posed to the rest of the world. WHO experts debated how to get detailed patient data and gene sequences faster without angering Chinese authorities or getting Chinese scientists in trouble.
    The report said China had decoded the complete genome by Jan 2, but a Chinese government order barred scientists from publishing it without government authorization, part of lab safety efforts.
    By Jan 5, two more Chinese labs had sequenced the new coronavirus, but a drop in new cases and features of the virus led them to question whether it would spread easily among humans. Two more labs in China sequenced the virus, including the China Centers for Disease Control (China CDC), which took steps to draft guidance and make a diagnostic test but kept them secret.
    News of the virus was first reported in the Wall Street Journal on Jan 8, catching China and the WHO unaware, but a Chinese research team didn't post the sequence to a sharing database until Jan 11, 2 weeks after it was first sequenced, angering China CDC. And in the meanwhile, Chinese officials said the risk of human-to-human transmission was low, which led to mixed messages from the WHO.
    The WHO has come under fire for its handing of the outbreak, mainly from US President Donald Trump, who is facing his own outbreak response criticism. Though the WHO has agreed to an independent review of its pandemic response, which it routinely does for any outbreak, Trump recently announced that the United States would withdraw its funding and participation from the WHO.