Africa readying for coronavirus


An isolation ward stands ready at a hospital in Khartoum, Sudan. Laboratories in Senegal and Madagascar have the necessary testing equipment. Passengers arriving at airports in Gambia, Cameroon and Guinea are screened for fever and other viral symptoms.

Africa’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has activated its emergency operation centre in the face of what global health officials say is a high risk coronavirus disease epidemic that began in China and will spread to the continent.

On a poor continent where healthcare capacity is limited, early detection of an outbreak is crucial.

The fear is great a spreading epidemic of coronavirus infections will be hard to contain in countries where health systems are overburdened with Ebola, measles, malaria and other infectious diseases.

“The key point is to limit transmission from affected countries and the second point is to ensure we have capacity to isolate and provide appropriate treatment to people that may be infected,” said Michel Yao, emergency operations programme manager at the World Health Organisation’s regional office for Africa in Brazzaville, Congo.

The DR of Congo is barring citizens from flying to China. Burkina Faso asked Chinese citizens to delay travelling to Burkina and warns they face quarantine if they do. Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda suspended flights to China.

“What we are emphasising to all countries is there should at least be early detection,” Yao said.

“We know how fragile the health system is on the African continent and these systems are overwhelmed by ongoing disease outbreaks, so it is critical to detect earlier to prevent the spread.”

John Nkengasong, Africa’s CDC director, told a briefing in Addis Ababa activation of the emergency operation centre would create a single incident system to manage the outbreak across the continent.

The Africa CDC will hold a training workshop in Senegal for 15 African countries on laboratory diagnosis, he said.

The continent has more than doubled the number of laboratories equipped to diagnose the viral infection, this week adding facilities in Ghana, Madagascar and Nigeria to established testing labs in South Africa and Sierra Leone.

“By the end of the week we expect an additional 24 countries will receive reagents needed to conduct tests and will have tests running,” a spokeswoman for WHO Africa Region told Reuters.