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WHO boosts Africa’s fight against coronavirus

South Sudan Corona Virus Passengers from an international flight are screened for their temperature, | ALEX MCBRIDE | AFP

Sat, 1 Feb 2020 Source:

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is scaling up efforts in Africa to fight the novel coronavirus.

WHO is supporting countries to implement recommendations from the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee, which met in Geneva, Switzerland on January 30.

On the advice of the Emergency Committee, the WHO director-general declared the virus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern on Thursday. The Emergency Committee recommends that all countries should be prepared for containment, including active surveillance, early detection, isolation and case management, contact tracing and prevention of onward spread of infection, and to share full data with the organisation.

WHO regional director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti sent out a guidance note to all countries on how to prepare for a possible outbreak.

“It is critical that countries step up their readiness and in particular put in place effective screening mechanisms at airports and other major points of entry to ensure that the first cases are detected quickly,” said Dr Moeti.

WHO has identified 13 top priority countries: Algeria, Angola, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, which either have direct links or a high volume of travel to China.

Rapid detection

To ensure rapid detection of the virus, WHO is supporting countries to improve their laboratories’ testing capacity. Since this is a new virus, there are currently only two referral labs in Africa that have the reagents to conduct the tests.

Reagent kits are being shipped to more than 20 other countries on the continent, and diagnostic capacity is expected to increase over the coming days.

To protect themselves against the virus, WHO recommends that people practice good hand and respiratory hygiene, and safe food practices. These include washing hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub, covering the mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve when coughing, avoiding close contact with anyone with flu-like symptoms, cooking food, especially meat, thoroughly, and avoiding direct unprotected contact with live animals.

China’s envoy to the United Nations said on Friday that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases had risen to 9,809.

China’s Wang Qun said the number of deaths remained unchanged at 213.

On Wednesday, the East African Community secretariat issued an alert to all partner states recommending increased surveillance and control measures at international airports and other points of entry.

“These measures should be kept up until the outbreak is contained,” said the acting head of the EAC Health Department, Michael Katende, in a statement.

Tanzania announced it has designated three infectious disease control centres in preparedness at the Kigamboni Hospital in Dar es Salaam, the Buswelu Dispensary in Mwanza, and the Mawenzi regional referral hospital in Kilimanjaro region.

At a parliamentary session in Dodoma, Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu said: “Because of the existing business and social interactions between Tanzania and Asian countries that put us at risk, we have begun screening all arrivals at the port of Dar es Salaam, Julius Nyerere International Airport, Kilimanjaro International Airport and Mwanza Airport.”

There are about 2,300 trained medical personnel at all major entry points remain on high alert.

Although by end of the week there were no reported cases of coronavirus in the country, passenger screening at airports had been extended to all airlines and shipping vessels entering Tanzania from all countries.

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