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Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director, Dr. Carissa Etienne, is calling on member countries to utilise data derived from surveillance activities to inform public health responses to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Speaking during PAHO’s weekly digital media briefing on Tuesday (June 2), Dr. Etienne encouraged countries not to “make decisions in the dark” but, rather, to draw on available data “to guide our public health actions”.

She said that preventive efforts are more effective when informed by surveillance.

“Even though testing capacity is not perfect, virtually all places in the region have sufficient data to track and monitor where the virus is spreading; this must drive our decision-making. It will also help us better target much-needed social support measures,” she noted.

The PAHO Director said that data-tailored responses will greatly assist in protecting vulnerable communities and focus interventions where new infections are on the rise.

“We still have an urgent need to expand testing. PAHO has been working with all countries on this issue from the start of the pandemic, and we will continue to focus on it to ensure capacity and supplies match the challenge,” she said.

Dr. Etienne, in the meantime, continues to caution member countries that are looking to lift physical distancing measures.

“Social/physical distancing remains our best strategy for containing the spread of the virus [so] we must be careful. My advice is, don’t open too fast or you risk a resurgence of COVID-19 that could erase the advantage gained over the past few months,” she pointed out.

Dr. Etienne, instead, suggested that consideration be given to undertaking a geographic approach to lockdown and opening up, based on transmission in specific locales.

“Social distancing slows transmission so that health services can test suspected cases, trace contacts, and treat and isolate patients. Our recommendation has always been test, trace, treat, isolate. It is a combination that works as long as you adapt it to each setting… and it is a core strategy of many countries that have successfully controlled transmission,” she pointed out.

Dr. Etienne further encouraged member states to continue strengthening their health systems and infrastructure, particularly in terms of improving hospital capacity.

“As cases rise, we must keep this up. Many places are overwhelmed, operating on the edge of their abilities, but we have consistently seen health systems rise to the occasion,” she said.

Dr. Etienne said PAHO has provided adaptable guidance, support and supplies and worked hand in hand with countries to prepare health systems for a surge in infections as well as protect healthcare workers.

She is encouraging States to draw on the capacities of all sectors in a united response to the pandemic.

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