The report by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and Economic Commission of Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) says economic recovery in the Americas will depend on the extent to which countries are able to flatten the coronavirus (COVID-19) contagion curve.
The report, titled ‘Health and the Economy: a Convergence Needed to Address COVID-19 and Retake the Path of Sustainable Development in Latin America and the Caribbean’, was formally unveiled during a digital media briefing on Thursday (July 30).
ECLAC Executive Secretary, Dr. Alicia Bárcena, said COVID-19 has exposed the relationship between health and the economy, noting that the pandemic has significantly impacted the lives and livelihoods of people in the region.
She noted that cumulative regional gross domestic product (GDP) is projected to fall by nine per cent, with unemployment expected to increase to 13.5 per cent, which will equate to some 44 million persons being out of work.
Dr. Bárcena further said that some 231 million people will be impacted by poverty, of which 98 million will be extreme cases.
“Therefore, people will not be able to buy [food and other essential items as] their purchasing power will be reduced. Companies will be impacted as well [as] about 2.7 million formal companies will go out of business and exports will also drop by 27 per cent,” she indicated, while highlighting challenges many persons will face in accessing quality healthcare.
Dr. Bárcena said that while several countries are focused on reopening their economies, this could prove to be consequential “unless we keep the pandemic under control”.
“This pandemic has exposed structural weaknesses in our healthcare systems. What the report is seriously suggesting is that there can be no resumption of economic activities unless we can focus on testing, traceability and confinement,” she emphasised.
Additionally, Dr. Bárcena said the targeted reopening of economies must also take into account the need to close gaps in the socio-economic determinants of health.
This, she added, in order to strengthen primary healthcare and reduce existing and potential vulnerabilities due to the inability by a number of persons to access key services.
“Public health must be the core tenet in our healthcare system; for that, we are going to need expansive fiscal policies. That is to say, we will need to broaden our spending in health [and] we will need to expand our regional systems,” Dr. Bárcena said.
PAHO Director, Dr. Carissa Etienne, in her remarks reiterated the need for member countries to focus on, among other things, investing the equivalent of six per cent of GDP in boosting healthcare systems, particularly at the primary level, and taking steps to ensure equitable access to services by persons across all segments of societies.