With more than 177 million cases and 2.8 million deaths, the Americas have become the epicenter of the COVID pandemic. Such is the dramatic conclusion of “Health in the Americas,” the flagship publication of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
No region of the continent, not even North America, was spared from the catastrophic consequences of the pandemic, especially among the most vulnerable populations, because as is almost always the case, there is a disproportionate impact that tends to affect the poorest populations, and the populations of color.
The region concentrated 37% of the total cases of COVID-19 and 45% of the total deaths globally. And although North America registered 55% of all cases in the region, 62% of all deaths occurred in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the PAHO report.
For example, as a result of the pandemic, life expectancy in Latin America and the Caribbean was reduced by 2.9 years, from 75.1 years in 2019 to 72.2 in 2021, according to estimates from the Population Outlook United Nations World Cup 2022. Although in smaller numbers, life expectancy also fell in North America, where a reduction of 1.8 years occurred.
“The fall in life expectancy can be reversed to the extent that countries advance with vaccination against COVID-19, strengthen their health services to provide care for all, and reduce inequities that affect health,” said Sebastián García Saiso, Director of the PAHO Department of Evidence and Intelligence for Action in Health. “We hope that the publication will serve decision makers to advise public policies that allow progress to be resumed towards better health for all.”
The report concludes in this sense that it is imperative to build resilient and sustainable health systems throughout the region, to reduce inequity and guarantee universal health, as a tool to address current and future public health emergencies.
Because although most countries in the region sought a comprehensive response to the pandemic, one of the greatest challenges was coordinating the response in a context of high fragmentation at the government level and a lack of critical resources in the health system.
So the obvious questions for all decision makers seems obvious: Are we better prepared for the next pandemic? What were the lessons learned? What adjustments should we make to public health policies to remedy inequity? Are enough investments being made?
The answer to these questions will largely depend on whether the next pandemic, which seems like an inevitable event, will not have the same devastating consequences as the current COVID pandemic. And being better prepared is everyone’s task.