June 9, 2020 / 5:29 PM / a month ago

WHO Americas director concerned about pandemic surging in new Latin America regions

FILE PHOTO: Director of the Pan American Health Organization Carissa Etienne speaks to the media during a meeting of Public Health ministers of the Mercosur trade block in Montevideo February 3, 2016. REUTERS/Andres Stapff/File Photo

(Reuters) - The World Health Organization’s regional director for the Americas Carissa Etienne said on Tuesday that data has raised concerns that novel coronavirus cases are surging in new places in Latin America as some areas show “exponential” rises.

Etienne, who heads the WHO’s regional branch the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), cited a rising number of cases in countries, including Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, Brazil, Peru, Chile, Venezuela, Haiti and Suriname.

The Americas have become the major hotspot for the pandemic as the outbreak improves in Europe and Asia, with the United States and Brazil leading the world in reported cases.

As of June 8, the Americas have reported 3.3 million cases of coronavirus cases, or nearly half the global total, Etienne said in a virtual briefing from Washington on the pandemic in the region.

Until there is a vaccine or better treatment, she called for a combination of social distancing and initiatives to test, track and isolate coronavirus patients to combat the pandemic.

“Without this combined approach, our efforts will have limited impact and we face the risk of a rebound in cases,” Etienne said.

PAHO will continue supporting Brazil’s efforts to curb the outbreak even though its federal government is not abiding by WHO recommendations on social distancing, and its President Jair Bolsonaro has said he might follow the U.S. Trump administration’s example and withdraw from the Geneva-based United Nations health agency.

“Regardless of the politics, our organization and the WHO will continue to support Brazil so that vaccines and other medicines will reach its population,” PAHO director for communicable diseases Marcos Espinal said.

Reporting by Jake Spring and Adriana Barrera; Editing by Christian Plumb and Aurora Ellis

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