By Michael L. Jarvis, London UK
Caribbean countries have been put on alert over a possible escalation of the COVID-19 outbreak in the region.
The warning comes from the Regional Office of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO).
The region is already seeing a rapid uptick in the number of cases with the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands recording rising numbers.
Dominica-born Dr Carissa Etienne, PAHO’s Caribbean Regional Director, has indicated that the area is yet to see a peak in the outbreak.
She urged governments to move quickly to address the risk of a looming onslaught by further intensifying existing measures as the coming weeks could prove to be very challenging across the region.
“The rise in hospitalisations and deaths we see in countries highlights how quickly the situation could change. We must act with urgency before the storm hits most of our countries, to protect ourselves, families and communities.”
Dr Etienne warned that inaction or delaying strengthening existing measures to curb the spread of the virus could result in both a public health and economic calamity.
The PAHO regional director said there is an urgent need to expand the region’s capacity of intensive care units (ICUs) as a priority.
In a report, PAHO said despite its early monitoring of the outbreak, it was nevertheless alarmed at the scale and speed of the spread of COVID-19 and the risk it poses to public health and the economies of small and vulnerable economies in the region.
Dr Ettiene has called on region’s political and private sector leaders for a joint approach in following through on measures to slow down and ultimately break the spread of COVID-19 in the Caribbean.
A range of actions have been taken by the various governments ranging from curfews and border closures to outright declarations of states of emergency.
With many countries under budgetary strain in funding the healthcare response to the pandemic, Dr Etienne stressed the importance of social distancing as a cost-effective means to cut down on the risk of community transmission of the virus.
“It prevents hospitals from being overwhelmed by too many sick people at the same time and it also keeps doctors and nurses from having to make a terrible choice about which patients receive care and which patients do not.”
To date, the primary emphasis in most governments' strategies to combat COVID-19 has been on saving lives and reducing the rate of infection which requires costly medical care - which most Caribbean countries are hard-pressed to provide.
The knock-on economic effects are already proving to be devastating for several countries, especially those dependent on tourism.
Dr Ettiene said there’s a leading role for the private sector to play in what is likely to be a long-drawn-out road to economic recovery.
She has called on businesses to work closely with governments to face the challenges ahead.
“We need the might of the private sector if we are going to effectively address COVID-19. It's only in a unified manner that we would be able to successfully confront COVID-19,” she stated.