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coronavirus-image COVID-19 Lessons from Peru and Argentina

COVID-19 Lessons from Peru and Argentina

The University of Miami Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas (UMIA) held a webinar on September 30th that focused on the COVID-19 outbreaks in Latin America — the region has become the epicenter of the pandemic, accounting for a disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases and deaths globally. The webinar provided an overview of the social, political, and economic factors contributing to the spread of the virus. Felicia Knaul, Ph.D., director of UMIA and professor at the Miller School of Medicine’s Department of Public Health Sciences, moderated the discussion.

“Peru and Argentina are two countries in Latin America that have been suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. Knaul said. “Both countries have had very interesting trajectories in terms of their public policies and efforts to control and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The cases of Peru and Argentina provide us with a regional perspective on health and health systems in the region.”

Guest speakers included Patricia J. Garcia, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., professor at Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia in Lima, Peru, and Adolfo Rubinstein, M.D., M.Sc., Ph.D., director of the Center of Implementation and Innovation in Health Policies at the Institute for Clinical Effectiveness and Health Policy. Drs. Garcia and Rubinstein — former ministers of health in Peru and Argentina — discussed the COVID-19 pandemic and the public policy response in their respective countries.

Both speakers mentioned that longstanding social and health disparities, political instability, a significant population of working poor (known as the informal sector), and fragmented and underbudgeted health systems exacerbated the COVID-19 pandemic in the region.

Peru’s response

In response to the pandemic, Peru conducted 1.5 million rapid tests, which were used to identify new COVID-19 cases and contacts and refer severe cases to the hospital for medical treatment. The rapid tests made it possible to assess many people with COVID-19 symptoms and their contacts and allowed for general surveillance of the population. They also offered an alternative to broad-scale laboratory diagnostic testing, which wasn’t possible due to the limited availability of resources and supplies.

Peru’s sizeable informal sector and lack of a risk communication plan made it difficult to contain the virus — many people couldn’t afford to stay at home, and many didn’t understand the importance of staying at home and social distancing.

The rapid tests have also created a false sense of security.

“Many people would have the test taken and remove their masks at work if they had a negative test result,” Dr. Garcia said. “Some individuals would have the test taken before visiting a family member or before a party, which has caused for some things to get lost in the process.”

Dr. Garcia believes there are lessons to be learned from the experience.

“This is not the first pandemic, and it won’t be the last one,” she said in her closing comments. “There are things that haven’t worked. Hopefully, we analyze them and understand them. This can serve as a catalyzer to get changes — changes that are needed in Latin America. I also believe that science in all of its aspects can help provide guidance and move forward so that the public policies are based on the data.”

Argentina’s response

Argentina implemented a strict quarantine but still had a record number of COVID-19 cases and deaths. Some countries — like Uruguay, Costa Rica, Cuba, and Paraguay — implemented less restrictive, less extensive quarantines and still fared better. Countries that didn’t enact federal public policies, like Mexico and Brazil, have fared the worst.

Throughout the pandemic, Argentina experienced increased unemployment, poverty, and school dropout rates. The unemployment rate reached 13.1% — the highest level since 2005 at percent. Overall gross domestic product (GDP) dropped by 13%, and the school dropout rate grew to 25 to 45%, depending on the local context.

At the beginning of the pandemic, there was strong public support in favor of the quarantine.

“The quarantine was not enough as a measure to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. Rubinstein said. “There were active policies that were needed as well — not only in terms of preparing the hospital response, but also a meaningful community response through testing, contact tracing, and isolation.”

According to Dr. Rubinstein, his experience as minister of health allowed him to understand public health from two perspectives — from activities that support decision-making, such as research and implementation, to the decision-making itself.

“I believe it’s good that people who know what evidence is, what data are, and what public policies are based on evidence and strong data reach positions of leadership in public health — it’s very important,” Dr. Rubinstein said.

The mission of the University Hemispheric Consortium is to facilitate problem-based collaborations in education, research, and innovation to generate the knowledge and solutions necessary to confronting the key challenges facing the hemispheric and global issues of health, climate, business, education, and more. The University of Miami currently serves as the secretariat of the organization, and Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia is a member.
Written by Veronica Bustabad 
Published on October 26, 2020