Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), affirms that they have issued “a number of requests for verification of the reports on the Coronavirus” that the Ministry of Health in Nicaragua has issued, and that they’re still “waiting to receive a response to our requests, despite numerous follow-up messages.”
In response to a letter sent to PAHO last May 11 by five former Nicaraguan Health Ministers, in which they speak of the country’s “extreme risk” in the face of the “lack of actions” of the government presided over by Daniel Ortega, Etienne stated that she “fully” shares their concerns.
“For this reason, the organization is doing everything possible within the framework and scope of the International Health Regulations, to help Nicaragua to reduce the spread of the Coronavirus and protect its citizens,” Etienne said.
The initial letter from the former health ministers in Nicaragua was signed by: Margarita M. Gurdián (2004-2007); Dora María Téllez Argüello (1985-1990); Martha McCoy (1999-2000); Lea Guido (1980-1985); and Lombardo Martínez Cabezas (1997-1999). In it, they point out that despite constant calls and proposals from different sectors of society to confront the pandemic, the government has “turned a deaf ear”.
Etienne noted that since the moment when the World Health Organization (WHO) classified the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus as a pandemic, “PAHO and WHO have been giving technical and financial aid to the Nicaraguan government, and on different occasions have insisted on the importance of controlling the pandemic in that country, reiterating our willingness to support the government in combatting it.”
The official said that following notification of the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nicaragua, “PAHO/WHO asked the National IHR Focal Points Network, which is responsible for the interchange of information pertaining to the International Health Regulations, to complete PAHO’s preliminary information on the cases of COVID-19.”
However, she mentions that “the corresponding documents were provided to the National Focal Points Network on March 21 and 28 of 2020”, but to date “the Nicaraguan network has presented the required information in an irregular manner.”
Accounting of reported cases requested
On April 7th, in reply to a question from Confidencial during a videoconference, PAHO publicly expressed its concern over the Ortega government’s response to the pandemic. At that time, Etienne reported that they had already made this concern known to the local authorities in both a “formal and an informal” way, but they hadn’t been listened to.
In her letter of reply to the former health ministers, the PAHO official explained that on April 2, 2020, they requested verification of the report of 63 “probable or suspected” cases. Later, on April 8, PAHO requested corroboration of the case of a 33-year-old taxi driver “with no known history of travel”, who was reported as having tested positive for COVID-19.
She went on to explain that last April 28, PAHO also asked for verification of the information of “316 suspected cases at a national level, and the information from the media regarding infections among the airport workers,” but that they haven’t received any response from the Nicaraguan government.
“We’re still awaiting a response to our requests, despite numerous follow-up messages … If Nicaragua doesn’t open its doors to PAHO/WHO, the organization can’t do anything more, but will continue its efforts to support the country in everything it can, within its competencies and the scope established in the IHR,” Etienne commented.
PAHO has provided support
The director of the Pan-American Health Organization assured that they would continue providing support for combatting the COVID-19 pandemic in Nicaragua, and gave as an example the fact that they’ve given the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health and other national institutions “guides and recommendations”, so that “they can adopt pertinent preventive measures and develop an adequate approach to the COVID-19 cases in the country.”
In the letter, Etienne noted that at the beginning of April, PAHO donated “personal protective equipment to the Health Ministry, to protect the health workers who were exposed to the disease.”
“In my interventions and in the name of the Organization, I’ve insisted on the relevance of social distancing measures in diminishing the spread of the novel Coronavirus, avoiding the collapse of hospital capacity, and – definitively – in protecting the population,” she added.
The PAHO director emphasized that they would like to “be able to do more to support the Nicaraguan government in its handling of this pandemic.”
“However, as you know, the work of PAHO/WHO in the countries is subject to the will of each one of its member states, as sovereign entities,” she specified.
The Nicaraguan government maintains that up through May 26 there’ve been 759 cases of COVID-19 and 35 deaths in the country. However, in their last report, the independent monitoring organization “COVID-19 Citizen’s Observatory” registered 3,725 suspected cases and some 805 deaths related to the novel Coronavirus.