The African Region reinforces preparedness for novel coronavirus

Accra, Feb.7, GNA –
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.

GNA