Coordinated action needed to fight RSV in Latin America

Miami, Jan 26 (EFE).- A coordinated effort from governments, institutions and civil society is needed to fight the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in Latin America, a region that has seen a significant increase in cases of the virus that can be serious in children under one year of age and premature babies, experts gathered in a virtual meeting said Thursday.

Professor of Microbiology and Public Health of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) Alejandro Cravioto stressed the need to improve primary care systems in Latin America, a region where intensive care units in pediatric hospitals are being overwhelmed by cases of infants and children admitted with RSV.

Cravioto was one of the panelists participating in the discussion “EFE Salud Dialogues: Respiratory Syncytial Virus, the impact on babies and premature babies in Latin America,” as was the director of the Department of Pediatrics of the Latin American Thoracic Association (ALAT), Lydiana Avila, who recalled that each year there are 33 million RSV infections in children under five years of age.

She added that approximately three million of these cases require hospitalization and that around 60,000 children die each year from RSV, mainly in developing countries

Prevention “is a task that we must undertake from all sectors,” said Angelica Maya, an infectious disease specialist and advisor to the Government of the department of Antioquia (Colombia), who called on families to “educate themselves about the risks.”

Cravioto stressed that the region’s health systems must improve, and proposed launching a comprehensive campaign that includes the prevention of teenage pregnancies and better access to monoclonal antibodies, which have reduced hospitalizations and shown up to 80% effectiveness.


RSV is a prevalent cause of infection of the lower respiratory tract (bronchi, bronchioles and lung alveoli) that can affect people of any age but can be severe, especially in infants and the elderly.

Babies born prematurely, with chronic lung disease or bronchopulmonary dysplasia, cystic fibrosis, congenital heart disease, or with immunodeficiencies are at increased risk of RSV complications and hospitalization.

Avila noted that out of every 100 infected minors, five end up hospitalized and, generally, they are premature babies, i.e. those born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. RSV is especially dangerous for those born before the 32nd week.

Cravioto explained that treatment based on monoclonal antibodies involves up to five doses, although new developments will reduce it to a single dose. The cost and ease with which countries in the region can access it remain to be seen, he said.

“We have found that many families do not have access to these treatments,” said Martha Herrera Olaya, director of the Fiquires Foundation of Colombia, who called for equity so that public policies reach all children and mothers, especially those who live in remote and extremely poor areas.

Additionally, she urged the scientific community and governments to consider parents when making health policies.


Although there are no vaccines approved by any regulatory authority, there is a drug that reduces hospitalization rates.

It is a monoclonal antibody (palivizumab), an artificial protein that acts on the immune system and prevents “severe RSV disease in certain infants and children who are at high risk,” such as those born prematurely, with congenital heart disease, or bronchopulmonary dysplasia, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The panelists highlighted the research that was needed to achieve a vaccine, although doubts persist about its accessibility.

Cravioto mentioned that the Revolving Fund of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), which has ensured the supply of vaccines for member states could be a solution for equitable distribution.

“I want to emphasize that the drug as such does not have as much impact as a global plan,” which should involve periodic intersectoral meetings, said Maya.

These children are “the future of our countries, it is in everyone’s hands this responsibility,” said Herrera. EFE

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