Coronavirus – Africa: World Health Organization (WHO) urges African countries to scale up COVID-19 response

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The African region is witnessing a rapid rise in the number of reported confirmed COVID-19 cases, with a 25% daily increase over the past five days. Today, 39 countries reported a total of 216 cases in the past 24 hours, this a significant increase from a month ago, when one country in the region was reporting a handful of cases. Since the start of the outbreak, 39 countries have reported more than 1 800 cases of COVID-19, and there have been 31 deaths.

As the world races to stem the spread of the virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) in the African Region is calling on countries to implement critical actions in the next two weeks while there is still time to prevent the outbreak in the region from overwhelming health services. “It has been a very dramatic evolution. It is most important that countries still work very hard on containing the spread of COVID-19 while preparing for a broader expansion of the virus” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “Every arm of every government must work together to stop this virus from wreaking havoc in Africa. Countries must use this two-week window of opportunity to scale-up their actions before it is too late.”

In a ten-point strategy released today, the Organization is calling for the establishment of a humanitarian corridor to ease the deployment of staff and shipment of supplies as well as urging governments and the private sector to boost medical supplies and equipment. Under the plan, WHO also asks countries to expand the numbers of health workers deployed by re-purposing staff, increasing public health education to help communities stay safe and protect others, and identifying and equipping facilities to treat and isolate patients.

WHO has mobilized and re-purposed its personnel, trained more emergency responders, including through online sessions, and supported effective coordination for COVID-19 response. “Our top priority is to support countries in Africa in their response. We need all countries to act now – both to keep the virus from spreading and to help support preparedness and response efforts in vulnerable countries,” said Dr. Moeti.  The need for urgent action in Africa is clear. Lately cases have been reported due to contact with people who traveled within Africa unlike before.

Some national authorities have taken proactive measures to limit or prevent social interaction or to implement quarantining and isolation arrangements.  As useful as such measures can be, relying on them alone is not enough. Core public health actions are needed: a strong surveillance system, effective screening, efficient contact-tracing, easy-to-follow public health messaging, and appropriate and targeted treatment measures are all required in conjunction with isolation and quarantine.

WHO Regional Office for Africa 10-point strategy:

  1. Mobilize and repurpose personnel to scale up surveillance, medical care, and public awareness.
  2. Train more responders, including through online sessions, to bolster the response.
  3. Effectively coordinate the work of all stakeholders to improve early detection and clinical care.
  4. Establish humanitarian corridors to ease surge deployments and supply shipments. 
  5. Rally the world, including the private sector to boost critical medical supplies and equipment.
  6. Educate communities to protect themselves and others.
  7. Set up scientific and research teams to guide the response, taking into account Africa’s specificities.
  8. Swiftly contain the spread of the virus to limit economic fallout.
  9. Assist the vulnerable, mainly those needing humanitarian aid, and ensure continuity of routine essential services.
  10. Create solidarity systems for action in Africa, South-South and North-South, and mitigate socio-economic disruption.

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