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Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director, Dr. Carissa Etienne, says the youth populations of member countries are integral to the region’s fight against the coronavirus (COVID-19).

Speaking during PAHO’s COVID-19 digital briefing on Tuesday (August 11), Dr. Etienne noted that many young people across the Americas are already engaged in assisting family members and neighbours and supporting community actions, “to help ensure that those who are struggling have the support they need”.

“I want to thank all of you for your commitment [and recognise your] actions and initiatives in reducing the spread of COVID-19. Young people are an integral part of overcoming COVID-19; you are a tremendous force for change,” she added.

Dr. Etienne said persons across the Americas, similar to other areas globally, are living in “extraordinary circumstances” as a result of the pandemic, which, to date, has seen the region recording more than 10.5 million cases and more than 390,000 deaths.

Consequently, she said, “Now, more than ever, we need all hands on deck to get through this difficult time in our history.”

“We need the energy and innovation of young people to help us all through these challenging times. We, at PAHO, want to encourage [more youth] to become engaged in [safeguarding] your own health and that of those around you. Any engagement, be it small or large, helps us beat COVID-19,” Dr. Etienne argued.

She emphasised the need for them to adhere to COVID-19 safeguards, including regular hand washing and sanitising, and physical distancing.

Dr. Etienne pointed out, however, that while attending to the welfare of individuals, particularly those deemed vulnerable, such as the elderly and persons with underlying health conditions, it is equally important to do likewise for young people.

She advised that since July, more than 200,000 confirmed and probable COVID-19 infections in adolescents, upwards of 10,000 hospitalisations, and more than 200 deaths have been recorded among the region’s youth and adolescent populations.

The PAHO Director said these statistics indicate that young people are not immune to the virus and are at risk of severe sickness, hospitalisation and death, adding that “even when asymptomatic, they can spread COVID-19 to family members and friends who may be more vulnerable”.

Dr. Etienne added that it is also acknowledged that youth and adolescents throughout the region are disproportionately affected by wide-ranging health and social issues, including violence, suicide, substance abuse, and road traffic accidents.

“We recognise that young people are affected by the pandemic in a unique way, and they struggle and are impacted differently by prevention measures, such as physical distancing and school closures,” she further stated.

Against this background, the PAHO Director said safeguarding the mental health of young people during the pandemic is critical, “particularly in a region where suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents and youth, after homicides and traffic fatalities”.

“Suicide is preventable [and] COVID-19 is preventable,” Dr. Etienne underscored.

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