The African Region reinforces preparedness for novel coronavirus

Accra The World Health Organisation (WHO), is strengthening its support to African countries in the detection and management of suspected cases of Coronavirus and ensuring a robust response, should a first case be detected.

This is in preparation to ensure the security of the continent while there has not been any confirmed case of the novel coronavirus.

The continent has close ties with China, which lays at the epicentre of the outbreak and WHO assesses 2019-nCoV a high risk for the African region, a statement from the WHO Regional Office for Africa, signed by Ms Saya Oka, the Communications Manager has said.

It said since January 22, 2020, WHO had received dozens of alerts regarding possible novel coronavirus infections from 20 countries and once countries investigated the alerts to determine if they met the definition of a 2019-nCoV suspect case, samples were taken and sent to laboratories.

As this is a new virus, up until early this week there were only two laboratories � one in Senegal and the other in South Africa, which had the reagents needed to test samples and they have been working as referral laboratories for countries around the region, it said.

Four more countries (Ghana, Madagascar, Nigeria and Sierra Leone), it noted had reported they could conduct tests as well.

The statement said WHO was sending kits to 29 laboratories in the region to ensure they had diagnostic capacity for novel coronavirus and could support testing samples from the neigbouring countries as well.

A new virus is always a challenge and most laboratories in Africa lack the key material they need to perform tests on a novel pathogen, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa said.

WHO is working with countries to rapidly scale up diagnostic capacity for 2019-nCoV. It is crucial that countries in the region can detect and treat severe cases early, preventing a widespread outbreak, which could overwhelm fragile health systems.

According to the statement, WHO had identified 13 top priority countries in the region, which needed to be particularly vigilant for the novel coronavirus, due to their direct links or high volume of travel to China.

WHO plays an active role in supporting countries to coordinate preparation efforts, it said, adding that surge staff had arrived in seven of the 13 countries.

It is dispatching protective equipment, thermometers and other essential supplies for health workers to conduct screening and handle suspect cases at airports and other points of entry.

While the top priority countries are WHO’s first areas of focus, the organization would support all countries in the region in preparation for novel coronavirus, the statement noted.

WHO was also engaging partners to raise awareness and increase treatment capacity in communities should the need arise.

Many countries, according to the statement were building on expertise gained to prepare for an influenza pandemic as coronaviruses caused illnesses similar to influenza.

In addition, since the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo started in 2018, WHO and partners had helped countries at high risk to prepare for possible Ebola cases and the efforts which had led to increased capacity in surveillance and the handling of infectious cases could also support the response to the novel coronavirus.?

WHO cautioned the public to practise good hand and respiratory hygiene and safe food preparation practices to protect against the novel virus.

Other good practices were washing hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub, covering the mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing, avoiding close contact with anyone with flu-like symptoms, and cooking food especially meat.

As reported to WHO by February 4, 2020, there were 20,471 confirmed cases in China, with 425 deaths. Outside of China, there were 159 confirmed cases in 23 countries with one death, the statement said.

The 13 top priority countries in the African Region are Algeria, Angola, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

Source: Ghana News Agency