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PAHO says region’s hospitals are ‘dangerously full’

May 6, 2021

PAHO, the Americas office of the World Health Organization (WHO), warned on Wednesday that hospitals in the region are “dangerously full” with Covid-19 patients and warned of the rise in admissions and deaths of younger adults.

“Hospitals in the region are dangerously full,” said Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) in a virtual press conference.

Etienne indicated that last week 40% of the world’s deaths from Covid-19 occurred in the region and that there are more countries than ever in Latin America reporting more than 1,000 cases per day.

The PAHO director stressed that the region did a remarkable job to expand hospital capacity last year and that countries such as Colombia, Panama and the Dominican Republic doubled the capacity of beds in intensive care units.

Other countries, such as Chile and Peru tripled their beds, while Mexico and Honduras managed to almost quadruple that capacity.

PAHO conducted a study in 16 countries and established that in March 2020 they had a total of 61,406 beds in intensive care units, with an average occupancy of 61% in these hospital wings. In April this year, the total had expanded to 121,000, but 80% of these were occupied.

“This is an average; some countries had an occupancy rate of more than 95% in these units,” said Etienne, who added that “control efforts are not so strict” after stricter measures in 2020.

The doctor in charge of PAHO explained that these beds require specialized personnel and that patients in these units require 24-hour care.

“This may not be sustainable over time,” she said, referring to the accumulated fatigue of health personnel.

False sense of security

Etienne noted that hospitals were filled with older people with pre-existing conditions for much of the pandemic, and this trend created a “sense of false security” among the younger population.

However, she warned, young adult hospitalizations and deaths are increasing as the Covid-19 pandemic accelerates in the region.

“Adults of all ages — including young people — are getting seriously ill and many of them are dying,” Etienne said.

PAHO indicated that in recent months, the rate of hospitalization of those under 39 years of age increased by 70% in Chile, and in Brazil there was the largest increase among the population around 40 years of age.

In the United States, there are more people in their 20s hospitalized than those over 70, and in Brazil the mortality rate for those under 39 doubled between December and last May.

According to Etienne, the younger population receiving hospital care is more likely to survive Covid, but she warned countries to prepare for a surge in demand.

“We are still in the middle of an ongoing crisis,” she reminded.

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