The coronavirus pandemic could “wipe out 20 years of hard-won gains” in reducing maternal deaths in Latin America and the Caribbean, and countries in the region should prioritize those who are pregnant and those who have recently given birth in their homes. vaccination campaigns, officials warned the World Health Organization on Wednesday.
“To date, more than 270,000 pregnant women have become ill from Covid in America, and more than 2,600 of them — or 1 percent of those infected — have died from the virus,” said Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, the director of the Pan American Health Organization, a division of the WHO, said at a news conference.
Pregnancy increases vulnerability to respiratory infections, including Covid-19.
Most countries reported a higher number of cases and deaths during pregnancy in 2021 than in all of last year, and in Mexico and Colombia, Covid-19 has become the leading cause of maternal death this year.
The organization of Dr. Etienne recommends that vaccinations be universal during the first trimester of pregnancy and for those who are breastfeeding, as breast milk provides vaccine protection to newborns. That’s a guideline similar to that issued last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Mexico, which has long prioritized shots during pregnancy, Dr. Etienne: “Not a single vaccinated woman has died of Covid during pregnancy.”
However, less than half of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have established specific vaccination guidelines regarding pregnancy and birth, said Dr. Etienne.
At least 40 percent of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have reported disruptions in maternal and newborn care due to the pandemic, said Dr. Etienne, and the region is still short of vaccines.
Only 28 percent of people in Latin America and the Caribbean have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, she said, with much lower numbers in some countries. Guatemala and Nicaragua have fully vaccinated less than 10 percent of their populations, and Haiti less than 1 percent.
In the Caribbean, infections as a whole are declining, although there has been an increase in the number of Covid-19 deaths on several islands, including Jamaica and Puerto Rico.
The number of infections is also on the rise in several Central American countries, including Costa Rica, Belize and Guatemala, where half of hospitals are overcapacity.
By contrast, in South America, with the exception of Venezuela, the number of cases and deaths has been steadily declining. Officials from the Pan American Health Organization did not specify whether the volume of testing in the region may have affected the number of reported cases.