221 Million People at Risk From Coronavirus in the Americas

Women comprise 70 percent of the health workforce in the Americas

women laughing and working

The Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, issued a warning that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on groups such as poor and indigenous could reach 221 million people in the Americas.

On May 19, 2020,  Dr. Etienne said, “If we want to slow the spread of the pandemic and put our region on a path to recovery, we must protect vulnerable groups from COVID-19.”

Dr. Etienne called for these actions: improved access to effective public health measures, the strengthening of health system capacity to better serve vulnerable populations, and for strong social and economic protection.

“We are increasingly worried about the poor and other vulnerable groups at greatest risk of illness and death from the virus. The recent spike in cases and fatalities is partly due to the virus taking root in these groups,” she said in a press briefing from PAHO headquarters in Washington D.C.

More than 121,000 fatalities due to COVID-19 were reported in the Americas as of May 18th. This data represents a 14 percent increase from last week.

“During a pandemic, we must overcome the structural inequalities that limit access to services.”

Women, who make up 70 percent of the health workforce in the Americas, are also vulnerable, as they are on the frontlines and disproportionately affected by COVID-19, Dr. Etienne noted. 

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In addition, they face income disparity, inadequate access to health services, and are often subject to gender-based violence.

“Far too often, we fail to prioritize the health and wellbeing of the most vulnerable among us. This must change if we want to stop the spread of COVID-19 and be ready to face future pandemics,” Dr. Etienne said.

"People of African descent in Latin America struggle to access appropriate care in normal circumstances, a reflection of structural discrimination and racial inequity, which put them at a greater danger of contracting COVID-19 and facing the most severe consequences of the disease", PAHO’s director said.

An important vulnerable group consists of people with underlying health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, who “are particularly susceptible to hospitalization, severe illness and death due to COVID-19” and face disruptions in treatment for their diseases because health systems are overwhelmed, she said. 

“This means establishing mechanisms that support universal access to health regardless of income, pooling resources with the private and not for profit sector, eliminating payment at the point of service and setting up emergency hospitals that add surge capacity where it is most needed,” concluded Dr. Etienne.

Vax-Before-Travel publishes international news regarding the coronavirus pandemic.