If African countries survive or escape the rampaging COVID-19, the World Health Organisation (WHO) cannot be denied the credit for waking the continent’s leaders to their responsibility.
Apart from regular releases of information on the status of the disease, WHO has helped to strengthen the capacities for the countries in the region to monitor and respond in the event of an outbreak of the disease.
The WHO factor in the fight against COVID-19 was very visible at the emergency meeting on the coronavirus disease outbreak, convened recently by the African Union (AU) Commission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
At the event, WHO regional director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti revealed that the global health body had conducted a survey with some of the countries to assess their overall readiness for COVID-19 and found the regional readiness level was about 66 per cent.
She said: “The threats posed by Covid-19 have cast a spotlight on the shortcomings in health systems in the African region. Countries must invest in emergency preparedness. This investment is worthwhile when you consider the cost of responding to outbreaks, which for the 2014 Ebola outbreak was estimated at close to $3 billion.”
Dr. Moeti applauded African ministers for their meaningful discussions at the forum on how to prepare for and potentially respond to COVID-19. She promised to support their efforts at enhancing surveillance, treatment, and community engagement.
Other stakeholders said that it was great to see African leadership in action at the meeting on coronavirus convened by the AU and attended by WHO and partners, stressing that it was a demonstration of the collective political commitment to tackling the disease.
She said that over the years, WHO has developed a national influenza network of laboratories and health facilities, adding that the laboratories, which are members of the network, have been able to scale up their diagnostic capacity quickly.
“Health facilities in the network are monitoring for severe acute respiratory infections and influenza-like illnesses using these conditions as a proxy for Covid-19 as they present with similar symptoms. So far this monitoring has not found any clustering or spike of influenza-like cases.
“As of 20th February, 2020, countries reported that since 22nd January, 210 people have been investigated for Covid-19 in the WHO African region with 204 cases ruled out and six pending, WHO explained.
Flowing from this, Nigeria and other members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) stepped up measures towards enhancing surveillance as health ministers in the region resolved to strengthen coordination, communication, and collaboration amongst member-states.
At a press briefing on the emergency meeting of the ECOWAS ministers of health, held recently in Mali, Nigeria’s minister of state for Health, Dr Olorunnibe Mamora, said that the forum emphasised the urgency of the current situation regarding COVID-19 which necessitated the convening of the meeting.
According to him, the meeting was aimed at strategising for the protection of the population of the EWCOWAS region.
Mamora said that following expert presentations on the global situation, the processes currently in place in the region and laboratory preparedness, the ministers resolved to strengthen coordination, communication, and collaboration amongst member states in preparedness for the epidemic.
He also said that the ministers had resolved to develop a strategic costed regional preparedness plan based on member states’ priorities for governments, partners, and the private sector to support.
This, Mamora said, include cross-border collaboration, enhanced surveillance and management measures for COVID-19, particularly at entry points – air, land and sea, as well as step up communication to ensure that the public receives accurate, appropriate and timely information on the epidemic and urgently strengthen critical national capacities for diagnosing and managing cases.
Other strategies are to develop a strategic costed regional preparedness plan based on member states’ priorities for governments, partners, and the private sector to support, promote multi-sectoral national efforts using one-health approach to maximise impact.
The minister said that the meeting also planned to implement robust measures to assure availability of critical medical supplies, including laboratory materials, personal protective equipment in the region and also work closely with the relevant authorities of national governments and the Chinese authorities to monitor and assure the health situation of Africans residing in China.
Also, the director-general of West African Health Organisation (WAHO), Prof. Stanley Okolo, said that COVID-19 is a new virus which requires high level of preparation. He disclosed that a total of 69,267 cases had been recorded with 767 deaths, representing 99 per cent in China and that it had spread across 25 countries with one recorded in Africa (Egypt).
Okolo further said that there are 15 African countries where testing for the virus can be carried out, adding that Nigeria has a costed plan on the preparedness to tackle the virus.
“The devastation of the epidemic affects everyone and that is why we cannot relent on our efforts. In our estimate, the cost should be in the tune of $30 million for Nigeria so as to help the financially week countries especially the neighbouring countries.”
To demonstrate its commitment to keeping coronavirus at bay, the federal government has released N386 million towards boosting its preparedness in preventing the importation and possible outbreak of COVID-19 virus.
The health minister, Dr Osagie Ehanire, had recently submitted a memo to the Presidency requesting for N620 million to strengthen preparedness and interventions for proactive measures to prevent the importation of the coronavirus virus to the country.
Last Friday in Abuja, the permanent secretary, Federal Ministry of Health, Mr. Abdullahi Mashi, said that the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) received N315 million, adding that earlier the sum of N71 million was released to the Port Health Services Division of the ministry for improved surveillance at the ports of entry, especially at the airports.