MEXICO CITY, Aug 11 (Reuters) - The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is preparing to increase COVID-19 vaccine availability for member countries, officials said on Wednesday, as the highly contagious Delta variant spreads through the region.
PAHO's "Revolving Fund" is receiving requests from regional countries for vaccines for the last three months of 2021 and 2022, said PAHO director Carissa Etienne. More than 20 countries have formally expressed interest.
"This new initiative will make available tens of millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses beyond the 20% that COVAX offers, and it will complement bilateral deals and other existing avenues for countries to access vaccines," Etienne said in a virtual news conference.
The Revolving Fund is a cooperation mechanism through which vaccines, syringes and related supplies are purchased on behalf of PAHO member states, regardless of size or economic conditions.
More than 1.3 million COVID-19 cases and 19,000 related deaths were reported in the region over the past week, officials said.
The more infectious Delta variant has been detected in 28 countries and territories in the Americas, PAHO Incident Manager Sylvain Aldighieri said. Transmission has particularly increased in Mexico, Ecuador and Brazil.
"We still do not know exactly what the impact of Delta is going to be in Latin American countries," Aldighieri said.
Deaths related to COVID-19 are rising in nearly every country in Central America, including a 30% increase in El Salvador. COVID-19 cases are falling in Panama and Costa Rica, but are on the rise in Honduras, Belize and El Salvador.
In Cuba, which has recently faced the most widespread protests since Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution, the situation remains "very difficult" as transmission is very active, according to Ciro Ugarte, PAHO's director of health emergencies.
"I think we will be able to mobilize solidarity and the support for Cuba, also from the humanitarian side," Ugarte said, adding that PAHO had already sent medical supplies to the island nation.
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