Africa strives to stay ahead of curve in COVID-19 battle

2020-03-14 03:45:06 GMT2020-03-14 11:45:06(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

ABUJA, March 13 (Xinhua) -- After learning from the media how to stay free of COVID-19, Nigerian taxi driver Ebenezer Akintunde has been carrying around a bottle of hand sanitizer as he shuttles between the airport and the city center in Nigeria's capital of Abuja.

"In my car's pigeonhole, I have up to two dozen masks which I offer to any passengers who might need them during the trip," he said.

Nigeria confirmed its first novel coronavirus case on Feb. 28. There are now more than 100 cases recorded in 15 countries in Africa, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

As the WHO characterized the outbreak as a "pandemic" on Wednesday, more African countries are stepping up measures to prevent further spread of the deadly virus across the continent, with lessons learned from Ebola and support from the international community.


Amid a hike in the global caseload, African countries are waging all-out efforts against COVID-19 with lessons learned from the Ebola crisis.

The fight against COVID-19 could benefit from the experience learned during the Ebola epidemic, said Jean-Jacques Muyembe, coordinator in charge of the fight against the Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The current panic caused by COVID-19, which is very similar to that by the Ebola virus, is due to a lack of preparation to these new diseases, said Muyembe.

During the Ebola outbreak in Nigeria between July and September 2014, the country traced and monitored 899 contacts and secondary cases out of which only seven were confirmed killed by the virus.

Nigeria is now using the same pattern of contact tracing to cope with COVID-19 and so are other African countries.

South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said his country was ready to deal with the virus with screening intensified at all ports of entry. Outbreak response teams have been activated across the country. The government has also designated hospitals as emergency centers.

Egyptian Health Minister Hala Zayed said Egypt has imported 250,000 test kits which can shorten detection and generate results in 30 minutes, and will distribute them to all ports and airports across the country.

Kenya, which confirmed its first coronavirus case on Friday, announced a raft of measures, including screening passengers at all entry points, cancelling all international conferences, setting up special units to deal with suspected cases, and establishing isolation centers across the country.

"There is no reason to panic as that would be counterproductive. Everything is under control," Cameroon's Minister of Communication Rene Emmanuel Sadi said on Saturday after the country reported its first two cases.

"So far, our life is as usual. I have not noticed a decline of customers," said textile store owner Gbatoagbesse Kossivi from Togo, where the first coronavirus case was reported last week. "My three kids still go to school every day. We do have concerns, but our confidence to overcome the epidemic is strong."


The economic prospect for Africa remains challenging as China and Europe, the continent's two major trading partners, were both hit hard by the outbreak.

"Firms faced a shortage of raw materials owing to reduced imports from China due to the coronavirus outbreak over the past month. This has increased output prices as alternative import markets aren't as cheap as China," said Jibran Qureishi, Stanbic Bank's regional economist for East Africa.

Should the disease continue, drug shortages are likely in Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, said Mojisola Adeyeye, head of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control.

As Africa's largest economy and a major oil producer, Nigeria is reviewing its 2020 national budget because of the recent market rout partially attributed to fear over the COVID-19, Nigerian Finance Minister Zainab Ahmed said.

South Africa's tourism sector, especially its core industries such as accommodation, food and beverage services, recreation and entertainment, transportation and travel services, has been hit hard by the virus and new measures are expected to minimize the impact, the country's Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said.

China and Europe have cancelled groups tours to the country over the past month, said Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, CEO of Tourism Business Council of South Africa.

"We are still tallying up the numbers. There's a negative impact. Cancellations have now gotten worse, some are reporting between 30 and 50 percent," he told Xinhua, adding that job losses were inevitable.

Amid the economic pain, businesses in Africa are relieved after hearing the virus has been basically contained in China and enterprises have resumed operation.

"The resumption of industrial activity by over 90 percent of China's large industrial enterprises in industrial powerhouse regions is certainly good news to the global economy," said Kenyan international relations researcher Adhere Cavince.

Supply of essential products, including those used to make critical pharmaceutical products, can then begin to flow to service people around the world, said Cavince.


"For a global epidemic like this, we call for global solidarity," Mary Stephen, technical officer in health emergency preparedness from the WHO Regional Office for Africa, told Xinhua, adding that the WHO has been working with countries in Africa to enhance their capacity to detect early cases.

With the help of the WHO, countries on the continent now have the ability to detect coronavirus cases and carry out surveillance, said Steven V. Shongwe, acting director of the non-communicable diseases cluster at the WHO Regional Office for Africa.

The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has distributed testing kits capable of making over 10,000 tests, and it is purchasing and stockpiling critical medical supplies to meet requests from African Union member states, said the organization's director John Nkengasong.

"Forty-three African countries now have the capacity to test for the virus, and we have supplied them with test kits together with the WHO," he said.

Apart from global and regional organizations, countries like China are also offering assistance to Africa.

China CDC has been working closely with Africa CDC, providing support to the recently established Africa Taskforce on Coronavirus, said Tajudeen Raji, head of Public Health Institutes and Research of Africa CDC.

"We have a senior technical advisor from China CDC who is working closely with us. He has been participating actively as far as the Africa Taskforce on Coronavirus is concerned, providing the necessary advice," he said.

"In terms of ... responding to this outbreak, China has enormous experience," Raji said, adding that Africans are relying on the Asian country to prevent the spread of and control the outbreak.

The close cooperation in public health between Africa and China has proven beneficial, he said.

Daouda Ndiaye, head of the Parasitology Department of Senegal's Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar, told Xinhua that Africa should bolster its science and technology ties with China.

"They are there to help," he said.

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