Dr. Rhonda Sealey-Thomas, a public health expert from Antigua and Barbuda, was sworn in last week as the new Assistant Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).
Dr. Sealey-Thomas holds a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery degree, as well as a Master of Public Health and a Doctorate in Public Health from the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica.
She has worked for the Ministry of Health in Antigua and Barbuda for over 25 years, most recently serving as Chief Medical Officer from 2005-2023.
Pan American Health Organization Deputy Director Rhonda Sealey-Thomas of Antigua and Barbuda said Thursday that non-communicable diseases, climate change, the capacity for resilient health systems, and the urgent need to strengthen pandemic preparedness and response were the main health challenges for the region.
“It is my aspiration that during my mandate we will work even more united as a region, in line with the value of solidarity” added Sealey-Thomas upon taking her oath of office.
The official insisted collective efforts were the “engine that drives the construction of healthier, resilient and equitable societies throughout the Americas.”
Sealey-Thomas will be in charge of supervising, among others, the departments of Prevention, Control and Elimination of Communicable Diseases; Social and Environmental Determinants for Equity in Health; Health Systems and Services; and Innovation, Access to Medicines and Health Technologies.
She will also oversee the Pan American Center for Foot and Mouth Disease and Veterinary Public Health; the Latin American Center for Perinatology, Women and Reproductive Health; and the Latin American and Caribbean Center for Health Sciences Information.
Meanwhile, Argentine health authorities announced this week that the new Japanese-developed Dengue vaccine will be available next month. It is produced by the Takeda laboratories and offers protection against the 4 serotypes of the malady.
It can be administered -with a medical prescription- to people from 4 years of age and up, whether or not they have had dengue previously. It consists of 2 doses, applied at an interval of 3 months, which reduces 84% of hospitalizations and 61% of symptomatic dengue cases.
The vaccine has been approved by the National Administration of Medicines, Food and Medical Technology (ANMAT) in April. There were over 130,000 cases nationwide in 2023. The drug prevents against dengue caused by any of the four existing serotypes of this virus, which usually generates more serious cases when a person is bitten by mosquitoes with two different serotypes.
The Aedes Aegypti mosquito transmitting the disease can survive in weather cooler than previously thought due to climate change and urbanization, which means the virus can reach further south, although the vaccine is in principle is designed for regions with a high burden of dengue and high transmission.
The vaccine is composed of live attenuated virus and was developed from dengue serotype 2, which forms the genetic basis for offering protection against the four serotypes, “activating multiple arms of the immune system that contribute to protection against infection and dengue disease,” it was expplained.
The main symptoms that could lead to suspect the presence of a dengue infection include acute and non-specific febrile symptoms, severe headache, pain behind the eyes, muscle and joint pain, sometimes diarrhea or vomiting, and sometimes skin rashes.
The new vaccine, not to be administered to pregnant and breastfeeding women, has already been approved in the European Union, Iceland, United Kingdom, Brazil, Indonesia, and Thailand, among others.
Sources: PAHO, MercoPress.