By Devendra Kamarajan
BRAZZAVILLE (IDN) – With more than 6,000 COVID-19 cases reported in Africa, the World Health Organization (WHO) has expressed concern about the virus threatening fragile health systems on the continent. Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said: “Case numbers are increasing exponentially in the African region” – not only between African countries but within different localities in the hardest-hit countries.
“It took 16 days from the first confirmed case in the Region to reach 100 cases. It took a further 10 days to reach the first thousand. Three days after this, there were 2000 cases, and two days later we were at 3000,” added Dr Moeti.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where COVID-19 cases were at first confined to Kinshasa, now a handful of cases have been reported in the easternmost regions of the country that were until recently in the grip of an Ebola outbreak. In South Africa, all provinces have now reported cases. The outbreaks in Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Senegal are also widespread.
South Sudan has confirmed first case of COVID-19 on April 5. The patient, a 29-year old female returned from the Netherlands on February 28, 2020 via Addis Ababa. The patient developed fever, cough, headache and shortness of breath and was identified by the authorities on April 2 that subsequently led to confirmation on April 4 by the National Public Health Laboratory in Juba. She has no history of underlying or pre-existing illness. She is in isolation but is in good health.
South Sudan is one of the 47 countries in the WHO African region. This is the 44th country with confirmed case of COVID-19 in the region: so far there have been confirmed cases in 43 countries.
“With the confirmation of a first case of COVID-19 in South Sudan, the virus is now a reality,” said Dr Olushayo Olu, WHO Country Representative to South Sudan.
To contain COVID-19, many countries in Africa are implementing measures, which restrict gatherings and the movement of people. Nationwide lockdowns are in effect in Kenya, Uganda, the Republic of the Congo and elsewhere.
However, the WHO is advising governments to use these measures in a considered, evidence-based manner, and make sure that people can continue to access basic necessities. Since many people in the region live in crowded conditions or work in the informal sector and need to earn money daily to survive, it is important that countries make provisions to ensure that people can still access essential services, maintains the WHO.
The organization is working closely with national governments and United Nations partners including the World Food Programme (WFP) to plan for these needs.
Dr Moeti and Ms Lola Castro, the WFP Regional Director for Southern Africa, addressed the restrictive measures during a virtual media briefing on April 2 by the WHO Regional Office for Africa with the support of the World Economic Forum.
“For socially restrictive measures to be effective, they must be accompanied by strong, sustained and targeted public health measures that locate, isolate, test and treat COVID-19 cases,” Dr Moeti pointed out.
“It’s vital that ports continue to operate to receive food and other essential humanitarian cargo; that borders and roads stay open so it can be moved where it is most needed; and that distributions to vulnerable people are conducted safely,” said Ms Castro. “It’s also crucial that the international community promptly provide the considerable funding needed to maintain and scale up assistance programmes.”
Apart from ensuring basic needs, WHO is pursuing innovative solutions to the region’s pressing public health problems. On April 1 WHO hosted an online training session on the clinical management of COVID-19 cases. Nearly 500 attendees from across Africa logged in to learn about issues including case characterization and triage, treating severely ill cases, infection prevention and control, and how to quarantine and manage cases in the community.
WHO also hosted a three-day ‘hackathon’, bringing together Africa’s brightest minds to find solutions to some of the problems COVID-19 has presented. [IDN-InDepthNews – 06 April 2020]
Photo: WHO concerned as COVID-19 cases accelerate in Africa. Credit: WHO
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