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Latin American and Caribbean Region Among Hardest Hit by COVID-19 Pandemic

crowded street scene in Latin America

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, June 14, 2021

While international news media have focused their attention on tragically high numbers of cases and deaths due to COVID-19 in the United States, Canada, Europe, and specific countries such as India, the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region is among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

During May 2021, death rates in many countries of Latin America have been significantly higher (for example, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina reported 361, 280, and 230 deaths per million population respectively) than those observed in other countries of the world (such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and India which reported 40, 3, and 66 deaths per million population respectively).

A new data brief published by the Salud Urbana en América Latina ("Urban Health in Latin America") project (SALURBAL), titled COVID-19 and Urban Health in Latin America and the Caribbean: A Challenge for Urban Health and Health Equity, presents an overview of the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic using data compiled from municipal, city, and national governments in Latin America.

Highlighted findings from the brief:

  • The cumulative death rate (through June 1, 2021) is the second highest of all regions, even though the LAC region has a much younger population than the US, Canada, and Europe. In May 2021, COVID death rates in countries of the region were among the highest in the world.
  • Under-reporting of COVID deaths in LAC is likely significant. For example, in May 2021 it was estimated that COVID-19 deaths in Peru were twice as many as was previously estimated.
  • Vaccination rates for the region remain low. Except for Chile, the percent of the population fully vaccinated remains below 10% and even below 5% in many countries.
  • High pre-existing levels of poverty, unemployment, and informal work as well as limited unemployment benefits, sick leave and other income support policies have magnified the health, social and economic impact of the pandemic and limited the effects of lockdowns and other measures on disease transmission.

The data brief also presents analyses done by SALURBAL researchers, highlighting the extreme social inequities that have been a constant throughout the entirety of the pandemic:

  • Cities with better social and economic conditions tend to have lower disease risk.
  • Within cities, neighborhoods with better social and economic conditions tend to have lower disease risk.
  • Under-diagnosis of cases and under-registration of deaths is concentrated among groups and territories with lower socioeconomic status. This together with lack of socioeconomic and race/ethnic information linked to cases and deaths has led to underestimates of inequalities and has hampered prevention efforts.
  • Vaccine access is strongly patterned by social and economic conditions (even in Chile with relatively high vaccination coverage), further magnifying health inequities.

“Latin America and the Caribbean was the most unequal region in the world before the pandemic, and this inequity has amplified the effects of COVID-19,” commented Dr. Ana Diez Roux, Principal Investigator of the SALURBAL project. “We hope that this data brief encourages regional organizations, national governments and city governments to urgently address the inequities reported. We also call on international organizations and public health entities to direct vaccines, support, and needed relief to the Latin American and Caribbean region as it continues to suffer some of the highest rates of deaths due to COVID-19 in the world,” she added.

Read and download the data brief (English PDF)

Leer y descargar el resumen de datos (Español PDF)

View SALURBAL’s COVID-19 data dashboard