HEALTH: World Health Organization (WHO) and key health partners join forces to fight COVID-19 in Africa.

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NAIROBI, Kenya, — With confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Algeria, Senegal, Nigeria and South Africa, the World Health Organization (WHO) and key health partners are strengthening cooperation to better coordinate readiness and response efforts across Africa. WHO convened a meeting in Nairobi this week, with representatives from the Kenyan Health Ministry, the African Union and key United Nations partner agencies in attendance.  A parallel meeting was also taking place in Dakar with Francophone partners, also led by the WHO Regional Office for Africa.

This week’s meetings were to ensure that efforts are coordinated, not duplicated, and that scarce resources are used in the most effective way possible.  At the meetings, a regional partner coordination mechanism was established, and a draft joint work plan was published that outlined priority actions for attendees over the coming months.  Regional Directors and agency heads are now drafting a joint letter to the governments of all Member States and Regional Economic Communities to inform them of the agreed key actions.

“We are calling on all countries to invest urgently in preparedness for the arrival of cases, and to prioritize the protection of health workers, individuals at risk, and to communicate better the risks of transmission to their people,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “These cases should be a wake-up call for governments across Africa.  Governments must do all they can to prepare for an eventual outbreak: time is critical.”

With COVID-19 cases in Algeria, Senegal, Nigeria and South Africa, WHO is changing from a readiness to a response mode in the African region. Experts already in those countries with confirmed cases are now focusing on providing technical support to country health workers, rather than providing generalised preparedness advice. Training on case management and infection prevention has also been provided to health workers from the countries.

WHO is supporting countries in their efforts to increase their readiness in this critical window, mainly in ensuring that vital early detection and control measures are in place and are as robust as possible. WHO is working with a network of experts to coordinate regional work on surveillance, epidemiology, modelling, diagnostics, clinical care and treatment, and other ways to identify, manage the disease and limit onward transmission.   WHO has issued interim guidance for countries, which is regularly updated to take into account the current situation.  Guidance has recently been issued on topics such as quarantine measures, citizen repatriations, and preparedness at workplaces.

While high-level coordination is vital to effectively respond to COVID-19, there are a number of simple steps everyone can take to prevent it spreading further.  These include regular hand washing with soap and water; coughing or sneezing into a tissue or a bent elbow, being sure to safely dispose of the tissue afterwards; maintaining a social distance of at least one metre, particularly if that person if coughing or sneezing; avoiding touching the eyes, nose and mouth; and seeking medical attention early if a person develops a fever, cough or difficulty breathing.

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