SANTIAGO – Chile is reporting a high incidence of Covid-19 cases. This is a sign that transmission is accelerating at an alarming rate, the director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said in a weekly press briefing on May 26, 2020. Chile now has the world’s highest seven-day average of daily new confirmed cases per million people.
According to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Latin America has become the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic, surpassing Europe and the United States in the daily number of reported coronavirus infections. The rolling seven-day average of confirmed cases per million people reported in Chile was 208 by May 26, 2020 followed by Peru (125), Belarus (99), Brazil (81), USA (66), according to Our World in Data, maintained by University of Oxford. The number of actual cases is suspected to be even higher due to the limited testing in Latin American countries.
The PAHO expressed concern over the alarmingly high numbers of people living with non-communicable diseases (NCDs), namely cancers, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, asthma, other respiratory diseases, and obesity which together constitute the most vulnerable group for bad outcomes with Covid-19.
For example, it is reported that in China Covid-19 killed more than 28 percent of afflicted cancer patients, compared with only 2 percent of the overall infected population. Latin America and the Caribbean have over 1.2 million people living with cancer, 135,000 of them in Chile alone.
Diabetes also increases the chances of a severe outcome or death by twofold; and a national health survey in Chile in 2016 showed that diabetes prevalence has tripled since 2003, with a rise in all age groups, especially in adolescents and young adults. The figures place Chile among the countries with the highest diabetes rate globally with the top spot in South America.
Chile and Latin America are facing the dual challenge of pre-existing non-communicable diseases and Covid-19. The specialized health agency of the Inter-American System therefore strongly recommends that restrictions in Chile and other Latin American countries not be relaxed and that preventive strategies be scaled up and proven public health measures aggressively be implemented.
They suggest, for example, that now is not the time to reopen malls as happened in late April, incorrectly signaling the worst was over, and that more stringent travel restrictions, social distancing, contact tracing to break the chain, and public education about individual infection control with clear, consistent, and accurate information such as hand hygiene, respiratory etiquettes, etc., are essential.
Dr. Mahesh Balwant Khot is working as a postdoctoral scientist at Biotechnology Centre of University of Concepcion at Concepcion campus of Chile. Dr. Mahesh is handling a FONDECYT, Goverment of Chile funded project, on biodiesel production from a newly isolated yeast obtained from Valdivian temperate forest ecosystem of southern Chile. He obtained his Ph.D. in microbiology from Shivaji University, Kolhapur and University of Pune in India.