The leaders of the organizations that make up the Joint Summit Working Group agreed on Friday, April 3, on the need to coordinate efforts to provide support in the areas of crisis preparedness, mitigation and recovery, in a videoconference called by the Chair of the Joint Summit Working Group (JSWG), the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, and the Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Carissa F. Etienne, to discuss coordinated and joint responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. The institutions at the meeting also agreed that multilateralism and international cooperation are essential today to face the crisis.
The multilateral organizations recognized PAHO's efforts to guarantee real-time information to countries and the efficient coordination of national and regional response operations.
PAHO continues to work to limit person-to-person transmission, including reducing secondary infections between close contacts and healthcare workers, as well as preventing events that lead to the expansion of COVID-19 transmissions.
PAHO reiterated the need to identify, isolate, and care for patients early, with care optimized for infected patients, and highlighted that need to communicate critical risk and event information to all communities and to counter any misinformation.
PAHO noted that, in the absence of sufficient RT-PCR tests, many countries are now using or purchasing other types of laboratory kits, including rapid test kits. In general, these rapid tests can be used to detect COVID-19, but should not be used to rule out cases. The severe shortage of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) is putting a greater number of health workers at risk, especially in countries with weaker health systems and those with a high increase in cases.
Another great challenge is the very low availability of respiratory equipment to treat critically ill patients and the lack of health professionals in some countries. International travel restrictions are affecting the delivery of drugs to treat COVID-19 and other diseases, laboratory kits, PPE, vaccines, and other supplies.
The crisis caused by the pandemic will have serious economic and social consequences for the region, making it necessary to have an inclusive strategy that allows for more proactive measures in supporting countries.
The economic effects of the interruption of value chains in Latin American countries, the contraction of international trade and the decline of tourism in the Caribbean are seen as key problems. Taking into account this context, sources of support should be sought to protect employment and income, avoid the bankruptcy of MSME’s (Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises), and meet the needs of the population in poverty, which in its majority it does not have health coverage. It was requested that a joint regional voice be brought before the G20 and that middle-income countries also be taken into account when making loans more flexible.
The countries of the Caribbean, despite the fact that most of them are classified as middle-income, have special vulnerabilities: the pressure of external debt and the recurrence of natural disasters. It is absolutely essential that they have financial relief to cope with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Participants warned that it will be necessary to have a financial package that can assist countries to address the crisis and that it is important that the region act in a unified manner to promote this approach.
The situation of women was especially considered by the multilateral organizations gathered, given that they are multiply affected and extremely vulnerable to this crisis, firstly because they occupy the majority of jobs in the health sector and, therefore, are largely heroines because day-by-day they face the COVID-19 pandemic and are more exposed. Women's levels of employment have been severely affected because they also constitute the majority of the workforce in the most severely affected sectors, and their enterprises in MSMEs are being seriously disrupted by the crisis. Women are also affected by psychological tension, stress and violence against women resulting from the need for home quarantine. Affirmative support measures are needed.
Participants also analyzed the situation of migrants, as they are among the most vulnerable sectors of the population, because they are the first to become unemployed and refuge centers generally do not have the adequate structure to prevent the COVID-19 contagion.
The development of regional protocols to allow the passage of agricultural products and measures to stimulate intraregional trade were suggested. There is a need to put special emphasis on food security in order to avoid shortages, price increases and cases of social violence.
Specifically, the multilateral organizations mentioned the implementation, or the need to implement, measures of:
• Emergency support
• Strengthening of health systems
• Mitigation of economic effects
• Flexibility in the use of financial resources
• Support to MSMEs and protection of employment and income
• Support for populations that are disproportionately affected by the crisis, including women employed in the most affected sectors and the migrant population
• Support to Caribbean countries, which will be doubly affected, as well as highly indebted low and middle-income countries.
The institutions agreed that the crisis generated by COVID-19 brings an obligation to strengthen multilateralism in the region, because today more than ever global efforts are required to address a situation that exceeds the individual capacities of the member states of the region.
The organizations belonging to the JSWG highlighted the need to make the use of financial resources more flexible in the short term in the region, the need for regional solidarity, and pledged to continue with coordination efforts to strengthen response capacities at the national and regional levels that allow countries to attend to the multiple dimensions of the crisis. The response to the COVID-19 crisis of the organizations represented can be found in the following document, which will be updated here.
The information presented by the entities during the meeting reveals a global panorama of the unprecedented impacts of this crisis and allows for the identification of the measures adopted in recent days in terms of public health, as well as in the socioeconomic sphere of the region. The social distancing measures adopted by the governments of the region will have a negative economic effect, which will aggravate existing vulnerabilities in the region's poorest populations.
The members of the JSWG agreed to meet periodically in order to ensure continuous coordination and update the information shared in the link that shows an overview of the actions of the Inter-American community in support of the countries and peoples of the region.
The Joint Summit Working Group is made up of:
• The Organization of American States (OAS)
• Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)
• Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC)
• Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)
• World Bank
• Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA)
• Development Bank of Latin America (CAF)
• Caribbean Development Bank (CDB)
• Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI)
• International Organization for Migration (IOM)
• International Labour Organization (ILO)
• United Nations Development Program (UNDP)
• Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)