Dr. Etienne at a COVID-19 Conference
Dr. Etienne at a COVID-19 Conference

Washington, DC, April 21, 2020 (PAHO) - The Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Carissa F. Etienne, called to speed up and expand the tests for the new coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) in the countries of the Americas. "We need a clearer vision of where the virus is circulating and how many people have been infected to guide our actions," she said.

In a virtual press conference, Dr. Etienne indicated: "The pandemic continues to affect our region, and it is vital that all countries actively take preventive measures, while preparing for more cases, hospitalizations and deaths."

As of April 20, 839,119 confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported, and 42,686 people have died in the Americas region.

The PAHO Director said the countries were already prepared to test and detect cases of COVID-19 since before the pandemic was declared. Since February, PAHO has trained and equipped laboratories for PCR testing in more than 30 countries. But as cases increased, countries have found it increasingly difficult to maintain that capacity, he noted.

Dr. Etienne highlighted PAHO's recommendations to the countries: expand its laboratory capacity and use all that are available at the national level; prioritize symptomatic patients, trace contacts, and follow up with those who may be infected; and ensure everyone's access to tests so that access to them is free of charge for patients.

PAHO has given more than 500,000 PCR tests to 34 countries and territories, "and we have worked with other countries to trace and support their capabilities," he said.

This week an additional 1.5 million PCR tests will be sent to the entire region, "followed by another 3 million next week to strengthen laboratory surveillance networks in our Member States," he said.

"To address the market shortage, we are working with leading manufacturers to make these tests available through the PAHO Strategic Fund. Currently, 12 countries are using this mechanism to purchase quality commercial PCR tests. As we negotiate other options, we are considering tests that are carried out both on open platforms and on so-called closed platforms, in order to maximize the testing capacity of each country, "said Dr. Etienne.

To help ensure that countries purchase reliable products, PAHO is providing guidance to regulatory and health authorities, and is asking manufacturers to "work closely with us to ensure equitable access to new, tailored quality testing reaching the market, and that all our countries can benefit from innovations. "

Global access to medicines, vaccines and medical equipment to respond to COVID 19 "should not be a privilege of certain countries or communities. Our collective goal should be to ensure that access to testing, treatment, vaccines and other technologies is available to everyone based on need, "added Dr. Etienne.