By Aislinn Laing
SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Brazil is seeing a drop in COVID-19 cases including in the hard-hit Amazon region but the relaxation of measures by some municipal governments could bring reversal in that improvement, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa Etienne warned on Wednesday.
Etienne said cases in the South American giant, however, remained "alarmingly high" while cases in Chile, which has had "a difficult few months," were plateauing.
Nearly every country in Central America is reporting a rise in infections, with Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic the worst-hit and 137 COVID-19 cases reported in shelters for people displaced by the volcanic eruptions in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
In South America, she said, Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Uruguay and Argentina are the worst-affected nations at present, while Mexico had seen a slight increase in cases following the Easter holiday and the relaxation of some measures.
Etienne said PAHO was concerned by the proliferation of "insidious rumors and conspiracy theories" in the region that risked exacerbating vaccine hesitancy.
"PAHO is collaborating with tech companies like Twitter, Google, and Facebook to address fake news and ensure the public can easily find accurate information," she said.
She repeated a call for more equitable distribution of vaccines, urging countries with surpluses to donate them to others who need them most.
"Latin America is the region that currently has greatest need for vaccines, this region should be prioritized for distribution of vaccines," she said. "This is a global epidemic. No one will be safe until we are all safe."
Dr Ciro Ugarte, PAHO's Director of Health Emergencies, said because of vaccine scarcity in the region, vaccine passports should not be considered as a mechanism to limit travel, since it would compound discrimination against those countries.
He said PAHO had seen evidence that Venezuela´s second payment for access to vaccines through the COVAX initiative was in process, and he hoped it could be finalised "as soon as possible" for the roll-out of drugs to 20% of the population, or 5.7 million people, to continue.
Etienne said so far COVAX has supplied more than 4.2 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to 29 countries in the Americas, with 90,000 more due to arrive in Bolivia today.
(Reporting by Aislinn Laing, Editing by Nick Zieminski)