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  • Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director, Dr. Carissa Etienne, says the entity is in “close dialogue” with several bilateral and multilateral institutions to coordinate a response to the negative economic impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) on PAHO member countries.
  • The move comes against the background of disruptions, Dr. Etienne said, resulting from COVID-19, “that have shaken our economies to their core”.
  • The move comes against the background of disruptions, Dr. Etienne said, resulting from COVID-19, “that have shaken our economies to their core”.

Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director, Dr. Carissa Etienne, says the entity is in “close dialogue” with several bilateral and multilateral institutions to coordinate a response to the negative economic impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) on PAHO member countries.

Among these, she said, while speaking at a digital media briefing on Tuesday (May 12), are the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

The move comes against the background of disruptions, Dr. Etienne said, resulting from COVID-19, “that have shaken our economies to their core”.

There were some 1.74 million confirmed cases and more than 104,000 deaths across the Americas, up to Monday (May 11). Jamaica has, to date, recorded 507 confirmed cases and nine deaths.

Dr. Etienne pointed out that the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) estimates that the regional economy could contract by approximately 5.3 per cent this year as a result of the pandemic, noting “this is the biggest drop in over 100 years”.

“The value of exports is expected to fall by 15 per cent, impacting many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean that rely on exporting commodities. Tourism has also been greatly affected, further impacting economies of Caribbean countries,” she added.

Dr. Etienne also noted that the resulting sharp rise in unemployment has pushed many families into poverty, adding that “more will follow”.

“It is forecast that [more than] 29 million… people will find themselves below the poverty line, the majority of which will be women. While we remain in this dangerous stage of the pandemic, financial resources are needed to help people cope with the economic impact of staying at home or being out of work,” she added.

In light of this, Dr. Etienne cited the need for a joint approach to simultaneously address the health, social and economic emergencies facing the region.

“Countries must support their economies while building strong social protection networks and embracing evidence-based public health measures that are essential to saving lives,” she said.

Dr. Etienne argued that as the region grapples with COVID-19, countries should remain focused on health by strengthening surveillance systems, monitoring health services and rapidly responding to any resurgence of the virus, “while also devising ways to stimulate our region’s economy and address poverty”.

“We see a path to recovery in which the health sector is central, both as a guide on how to keep people safe and as a foundation for economic growth and well-being,” she said.

Against this background, Dr. Etienne said the discussions with the international development partners and multilateral and bilateral institutions aim to ensure that “future investments are based on the best evidence available to guide public health decision-making”.

“It is in this context that ECLAC and PAHO will be working together to shape a new model where resilient health systems and universal health coverage are viewed as key to economic growth and social protection,” she added.

Dr. Etienne said PAHO is advocating for a new paradigm, “one in which the health of the people is at the foundation of a nation’s wealth”.

She acknowledged that Heads of States and Ministers of Health and Finance “all face the same dilemma [of identifying ways] to keep their people safe, while also protecting the livelihoods of families and communities”.

“It is a difficult balance to strike, but I daresay not an impossible one. Strong economic activity requires people to feel safe and confident in the future. COVID-19 reminds us that when we invest in health systems, we keep our people safe and our economies strong,” Dr. Etienne said.

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