The Covid-19 pandemic swept through every country in the Americas in 2020, infecting more than 35 million people and causing some 850,000 deaths. Globally, Covid-19 affected 216 countries and territories, causing more than 80 million cases and 1.7 million deaths worldwide. The Americas was the most affected continent in a context of large inequities.
Pan American Health Organisation director Carissa F Etienne called it “the most extraordinary public health event of our lifetimes,” and said the work to control the pandemic in 2021 “won’t be easy or quick”.
In a year-end message, Etienne said, “As we approach the end of 2020, I would like to recognise your dedication in meeting the unparalleled challenges of this year. My thanks to all staff, national governments, international organisations, and citizens who have helped confront Covid-19 while continuing to advance the health and well-being of people in the Region of the Americas.”
At the start of the pandemic, PAHO activated an organisation-wide response through regional and country incident management system teams. The Organisation worked with countries to support their surveillance, testing and laboratory capacity, and prepare and strengthen health care services, infection prevention control, clinical management, and risk communication.
PAHO focused on helping countries rapidly detect cases, protect their health workers, reduce transmission, and save lives, providing training, logistical support, vital equipment and supplies, and emergency planning.
To complement PAHO resources in 27 country offices, personnel and supplies were mobilised to train national health authorities, support national emergency plans, and assess reorganisation of health services. PAHO also disseminated technical specifications for personal protective equipment (PPE) and biomedical equipment and supported the analysis of needs to meet the requirements for PPE, supplies, and reagents and advanced purchasing processes to generate a strategic national reserve through donations to the PAHO Strategic Fund, a regional technical cooperation mechanism for pooled procurement of essential medicines and strategic health supplies. Additionally, over 200 virtual training sessions were held, with some 30,000 participants from 33 countries.
Contact tracing is critical for health authorities to keep the spread of the virus under control. In collaboration with the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network—GOARN, PAHO trained health workers in 31 countries and territories in the Go.Data app that supports investigation and management of suspected Covid-19 cases, display of transmission chains, and contact tracing.
The global scientific community raced to identify and assess the efficacy of potential therapeutics for caring for persons sickened by Covid-19. To help countries navigate the deluge of information, PAHO reviewed findings from over 1,700 clinical trials and 58 therapeutic options to enable health authorities to take evidence-backed decisions for patient care. In addition, 111 technical guidelines and recommendations were developed or tailored to the Americas from WHO documents.
PAHO also supported strengthening or installation of SARS-CoV-2 virus reference laboratory diagnostic capacity in 35 countries and territories and established a regional genomics surveillance network to monitor for variants of the virus.
“While we hope 2021 will usher a new chapter in our fight against this virus, protecting the millions of people in our region with Covid-19 vaccines will be a huge undertaking,” Etienne said in a recent briefing. “So, we must be patient and remain realistic that Covid-19 will be among us for some time – so our work to control it cannot and must not stop.”
Vulnerable people in the Americas “are already receiving Covid-19 vaccines, with millions more doses expected early next year. This timeline is astonishing and a testament to the unprecedented collaboration among scientists, researchers and experts alike.”
Global partnerships like the COVAX Facility are also pooling resources, expertise and efforts to ensure that countries have equal access to safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines under the same timelines, Etienne added. PAHO’s Revolving Fund, through which 41 countries and territories pool their resources to procure high-quality vaccines, syringes and related supplies for their populations at the lowest price, will also play a significant role.