The novel coronavirus outbreak may have so far spared Latin America, but the region is not letting its guard down.  In fact, several public health organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean are now making strides to prepare the region for a potential COVID-19 outbreak.

According to reports, the two regions are already in talks with national health departments and other stakeholders to ensure the rapid detection of the virus in case it penetrates the rest of the Western Hemisphere. Since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus outbreak as a global health emergency in January, there have only been 15 cases of the virus in the U.S. and eight in Canada.

With the outbreak giving no signs of slowing down, the Pan American Health Organization, the regional arm of the WHO in Latin America, is now preparing the region for future cases of the deadly virus. “Virology experts from PAHO have been training and equipping laboratories to respond to potential imported cases,” said PAHO in a statement.

PAHO officials revealed on Feb. 21 that 29 laboratories were being set up across Latin America for early detection of the COVID-19. Since the virus was discovered in Wuhan, China and started to spread across 25 countries around the world, PAHO has teamed up with several Latin American countries to fortify their capacity for laboratory testing. According to the organization, these preparedness activities helped the region deal with previous pandemics, including the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and the H1N1 swine flu virus.

Coordination with 35 national societies across Latin America is also underway for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), which has been actively spearheading public information campaigns in recent weeks about the importance of proper hygiene in preventing the disease. The IFRC is also responsible for ensuring that only factual and up-to-date information about the COVID-19 epidemic reaches the public.

In a statement, Jono Anzalone, IFRC’s head of emergency operations for the Americas, revealed that while Latin America remains safe amid the outbreak, they’re still preparing for the worst-case scenario. “We are comparatively stronger than other parts of the world, but we can’t let the guard down,” he said.

corona virus The novel coronavirus has already infected thousands in China. World Health Organization (WHO) / Facebook