How well equipped is the African health system to handle a possible Coronavirus outbreak in the continent?
Ill-equipped, so said the World Health Organisation (WHO) yesterday.
The Director General of the organisation, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned that African health systems appeared ill-equipped to respond to the deadly coronavirus outbreak should cases start to proliferate across the continent.
Tedros therefore asked African Union member states “to come together to be more aggressive in attacking” the virus, known as COVID-19.
“Our biggest concern continues to be the potential for COVID-19 to spread in countries with weaker health systems,” Tedros said during the emergency ministerial meeting on COVID-19 organised by the African Union and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
He advised all countries to invest urgently in preparedness, stressing the need to take advantage of the window of opportunity available to attack the virus outbreak with a sense of urgency.
The outbreak which began in December has already killed more than 2,200 people and infected more than 75,500 in China.
More than 1,150 people have also been infected outside China, although Egypt is the only African country to have recorded a confirmed case.
There have been more than 200 suspected cases in the WHO’s AFRO region, which includes most African countries, though nearly all have been confirmed negative, regional director Matshidiso Rebecca Moeti said yesterday.
“But if COVID-19 starts to spread on the continent, African health systems will struggle to treat patients suffering from symptoms such as respiratory failure, septic shock and multi-organ failure,” WHO’s Tedros said.
“These patients require intensive care using equipment such as respiratory support machines that are, as you know, in short supply in many African countries and that’s a cause for concern,” he said.
According to him, China has now reported 75,569 cases, including 2,239 deaths, saying that data from China continues to show a decline in new cases.
“This is welcome news, but it must be interpreted very cautiously. It is far too early to make predictions about this outbreak. Outside China, there are now 1,200 cases in 26 countries, with eight deaths. As you know, there is one confirmed case on the African continent in Egypt.
“Several African countries have tested suspected cases of COVID-19, but fortunately they have been found negative.
“We are especially concerned about the increase in cases in the Islamic Republic of Iran, where there are now 18 cases and four deaths in just the past two days,” he said.
The director-general said that WHO had supplied testing kits to Iran, and would continue to provide further support in the coming days and weeks.
“What has been reported from South Korea and Italy yesterday is also a matter of concern and how the virus is now spreading to other parts of the world.
“But in addition to that, as I said earlier in my press conference, the window of opportunity is narrowing.
“This meeting, I hope, will help us come together as a continent in attacking this virus,” he said.
Ghebreyesus averred that the outbreak had captured the world’s attention in just seven weeks of the virus’ detection, and rightly so, saying it has the potential to cause severe political, social and economic upheaval.
He noted that a WHO-led international team of experts including the Director-General of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, had been in China for the past week.