Lessons from Ebola helping Africa’s Covid-19 response

05 May 2020 | Health

WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr. Matshidiso Moeti spoke with Africa Renewal about applying lessons learned from the continent's Ebola virus disease response, as well as actions of continental and international solidarity to address the pandemic:

What has the Ebola response taught Africa about how to prepare for Covid-19?

The important lesson we learned from the Ebola outbreak, which is being applied now, is how to start work early at the community level, because communities are key at the start of an outbreak, in terms of surveillance and recognizing patterns of illness.

We have also learned that it is important not only to tell people things, but to also listen to them and to incorporate that information into our strategies. There is a huge amount of information circulating and we have learned to reach out; not just to send radio messages, but to talk to people and hear them.

We have also built on the capacity already put in place for the Ebola outbreak. Some of the laboratory testing capacity was built around the Ebola experience. We learned a lot about point-of-entry screening of people through work on Ebola and have now started a strong partnership with the International Organization for Migration (IOM). One of the things that I'm hoping will help us is testing out therapeutics even as we are using them.

What are some of the international solidarity efforts under way?

Some, like the European Union, have offered funding particularly to low-income countries.

The World Bank has released US$12 billion in funding and quite a few countries have offered financing.

How will we know when we have Covid-19 under control and that it is safe for us all to stop social distancing?

The responses of individuals, families and households to facilitate the reduction or halt of transmission is one of the biggest adjustments [being made] and the most important part of this response. Right now, we are not certain when we will start to see the end of this outbreak. We have seen some countries, like China, emerge at the other end of the peak and we believe South Korea is on that path. They are being very deliberate in relaxing some of these restrictions. I've seen people in China very joyful as they came out into their gardens for the first time in the last few days, but even then, their movement is still limited.

We all need to make sure that when we open up the spaces to allow people to start moving around, we continue to carefully monitor the evolution of Covid-19 on a day-to-day basis for any new infections before we can allow life to go back to normal.

Do you have a final message?

Solidarity, sympathy, and helping and supporting each other are what’s going to bring us out of this outbreak.

One of the most important demonstrations of this solidarity, in my view, is to not only protect ourselves, but to be responsible for protecting others. Demonstrations that we are thinking of other people, even as we think of ourselves. If governments announce measures that they think are going to make a difference, let's not wait until we are policed or chased around to comply.-www.un.org/coronavirus

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