More kits, surveillance and case management needed
29 April 2020 | Health
Where is Africa in terms of preparedness and response to COVID-19?
M: Several weeks ago, we only had two labs in two countries [South Africa and Senegal] where testing for novel coronavirus was available. Now 41 countries in the African region can diagnose this virus. Countries have also made progress in point-of-entry screening and establishing follow-up surveillance mechanisms. They need to expand on this so that any health worker — and more importantly people at the community level — can recognize the signs and symptoms of this illness.
Where is progress on the COVID-19 response needed most?
The areas most in need of progress include making sure that countries have the necessary supplies and equipment. First, we need personal protective equipment, to protect healthcare workers, and laboratory testing kits. We have a global-level market distortion which means some of these items are difficult to obtain. There is also a need to improve on surveillance in many of our member states. From the point of entry, there is a need for close follow-up of people travelling from highly-affected countries. Then when people are put in isolation, including self-isolation, there needs to be some means of following up to ensure that this is actually happening.
What about establishing COVID-19 treatment centres?
We also need better case management and the establishment of treatment centres for people with COVID-19. We recognize that most of our countries do not have enough critical care beds in intensive care units, so this can be [addressed] by creating and equipping special temporary field-type hospitals in field-type spaces. People who have mild illness or who are infected but asymptomatic do not need to be admitted to hospital, where the beds are needed for seriously ill patients.
Which African countries are good examples of COVID-19 preparedness and response?
We have seen different countries manifest diverse aspects that are critical, at the political level, to a successful response. For example, some heads of state have made commitments to or have established high-level response mechanism, while others have set up commissions to coordinate their response.
How close are we to a COVID-19 vaccine and what can be done to ensure that it is accessible to all?
I believe there are about 20 vaccines being tested at the moment by different researchers. Some of our experience in developing a vaccine for the Ebola virus, for example, is being used now to promote partnership and sharing of information around the development of a [coronavirus] vaccine. Developing a vaccine, even in this fast-track mode of working, takes some time, so we don't expect there to be a vaccine available this year, at least. (www.un.org/coronavirus)