Africa is one of only two continents without confirmed coronavirus cases, however experts have warned that it could be a long time before the first case is confirmed, given its increasingly close ties to China.
At least 565 people died with over 28,000 confirmed cases worldwide, most of them in China.
Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that the coronavirus epidemic was a global health emergency, largely due to concerns that poorer countries would not be able to cope with an epidemic.
“The main reason for this claim is not what is happening in China, but what is happening in other countries. Our main concern is the possibility of the virus spreading to countries with weaker health systems,” said the chief. of CHI, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who comes from Ethiopia
Health systems in many African countries are already struggling with the existing workload, so can they face another outbreak of a highly infectious disease?
Michael Yao, head of WHO emergency operations in Africa, notes that some countries on the continent “have the minimum to start, they are not starting from scratch.”
“We know how fragile the health system is in the African continent and these systems are already overwhelmed by numerous outbreaks of ongoing diseases, so it is essential for us to detect it first to prevent spread.”
What services are there currently to treat it?
Until earlier this week, there were only two laboratories in Africa, one in Senegal and the other in South Africa, which had the reagents needed to analyze the samples. They worked as reference laboratories for the countries of the region.
One of the laboratories, the Institut Pasteur de Dakar, in Senegal, has long been at the forefront of medical innovation in Africa, including research on yellow fever.
However, Ghana, Madagascar, Nigeria and Sierra Leone announced this week that they can also run tests.
WHO is also sending kits to 29 laboratories across the continent to ensure that they are able to manage the virus and, if necessary, also to analyze samples from other countries.
However, at least 36 African countries are expected to be equipped to perform specific tests for coronavirus by the end of this month.
The ability of African nations to correctly diagnose cases “depends on the new reagents available in China and Europe,” says Dr. Yao.
The Nigeria Red Cross claims to have alerted one million volunteers. Its secretary general, Abubakar Ahmed Kende, said the measure was to prevent the possible spread of the virus in the country and also to contain the spiraling outbreak of Lassa fever across the country.
In Tanzania, Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu announced that isolation centers have been identified in the north, east and west of the country. Thermometers have been preserved and over 2,000 health workers have been trained.
Several countries, including Kenya, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Botswana, have treated suspicious cases and quarantined them during the tests. So far, everyone has been negative for the virus.
Uganda’s Ministry of Health has confirmed that it has placed more than 100 people in quarantine at Entebbe International Airport. Some people were quarantined in two hospitals in Entebbe and Kampala, while others were asked to remain in their homes.
Have you learned lessons from Ebola?
Yao participated in the treatment of Ebola outbreaks in West Africa in 2014-2016 and more recently in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He said he was concerned about the poor ability to treat critical coronavirus cases.
“We are recommending that countries at least identify cases in advance to prevent the spread of the new virus within the community, which will be difficult to manage,” he says.
On the positive side, many African countries were already checking passengers arriving at their ports of entry for Ebola. Countries that have faced the Ebola epidemic still have isolation structures and experience in controlling infectious diseases.
But when it comes to detection, Ebola is different from coronavirus. Ebola became infectious only when symptoms showed, however, there have been reports that in some cases, coronavirus may have been transmitted before patients showed symptoms.