BOGOTA (Reuters) – The Americas could be left behind as new treatments for COVID-19 are developed and approved, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday, urging countries and companies to work together to ensure access across the region.
PAHO has repeatedly warned that the poorer countries in Latin America and the Caribbean will lag behind richer nations in the fight against COVID-19 and that delays will put the lives of more vulnerable populations at risk.
“As new treatments gain final approvals, countries and companies alike must work together to ensure that everyone who can benefit from these tools has timely access to them, at a price our countries can afford,” PAHO director Carissa Etienne told journalists during the group’s weekly news conference. “Without additional support, they will be left behind.”
PAHO – which operates as the regional office for the World Health Organization – is tracking developments closely, she said, and will support countries, international organizations and companies to guarantee access to future therapeutic tools like anti-virals.
“We need the good will of companies to openly share these technologies and resources to all countries so that the Americas are not left behind as new tools become available,” Etienne said.
U.S. drugmaker Pfizer Inc on Tuesday said its antiviral COVID-19 pill showed near 90% efficacy in preventing hospitalizations and deaths in high-risk patients. It is in talks with regulatory agencies for authorization of the treatment.
Rival Merck & Co has asked for U.S. emergency authorization for its own antiviral pill.
This year was worse than 2020 for the region, Etienne said, with triple the number of COVID-19 infections and deaths.
While vaccinations were not as rapid or evenly distributed as hoped and millions of people have not yet received a single dose, 56% of people in Latin America and the Caribbean are fully vaccinated, Etienne added.
New COVID infections in the region rose 18.4% over last week to 926,056, as the United States, Canada, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay and parts of the Caribbean saw a rise in cases.
(Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Mark Porter and Rosalba O’Brien)