The World Health Organization (WHO) has promised to support African Union Member States on a common preparedness and response strategy as the threat of coronavirus disease looms over the continent.
WHO joined Health Ministers in an emergency meeting on the coronavirus disease outbreak, convened on Saturday February 22,2020 by the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
In a statement from WHO, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Regional Director for Africa said there are critical gaps in readiness for countries across the continent.
“We need urgently to prioritize strengthening the capacities for countries to investigate alerts, treat patients in isolation facilities and improve infection, prevention and control in health facilities and in communities,” said Dr Moeti.
During the meeting, African Ministers of Health discussed a joint communique on how to prepare for and potentially respond to COVID-19 and expect to conclude their discussions in a few days.
“The threats posed by COVID-19 has cast a spotlight on the shortcomings in health systems in the African Region,” said Dr Moeti.
He noted that countries must invest in emergency preparedness and that the investment is worthwhile when one considers the cost of responding to outbreaks, which for the 2014 Ebola outbreak was estimated at close to Sh.300 billion (USD 3 billion).
WHO has conducted a survey with countries to assess their overall readiness for COVID-19 and found the regional readiness level was an estimated 66 percent.
It has so far deployed more than 40 experts to ten countries to support coordination, treatment, infection, prevention and control, community engagement, surveillance and laboratory disease control
WHO has also assisted countries in building their diagnostic capacity for COVID-19, and currently 26 laboratories are able to test for the new pathogen, up from just two early this month.
As of 20 February 2020, countries reported that since 22 January, countries report that 210 people have been investigated for COVID-10 in the WHO African region. 204 cases have been ruled out and six cases were still pending.
During the meeting, WHO regional director for Africa was joined by H.E. Amira Elfadil, Commissioner for Social Affairs, and African Union Commission in welcoming Ministers of AU.
By Wangari Ndirangu