Armed with lessons from Ebola, Africa braces for coronavirus surge

The central African country was doing more generalised screening for disease long before China revealed the new virus that has killed around 7,000 people globally, a report said on Tuesday.

When a passenger arriving from Brussels at Cameroon’s Yaounde Nsimalen airport on Saturday was found to have a temperature, health officials say he was whisked to a hospital.

The officials added that he was diagnosed inside for hours as the country’s fourth case of coronavirus.

Along with other countries on the continent, it hopes its experience guarding against Ebola and other epidemics will help its health system cope with a pandemic that could quickly overwhelm it.

“We have cases that were not caught by the measures in France and Italy that were caught here,” Georges Mballa, who runs the health ministry’s epidemic response, told Reuters.

Mballa described the screening as a “spying network”.

“Epidemics come and go, but we keep on the surveillance,” he noted.

The virus now ravaging Europe has appeared in no less than 26 out of 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

In most of them the recorded cases are still in single figures and have come in from abroad, notably Europe, rather than emerging at home.

Report says the stakes are high, if the disease gets into Africa’s poorest areas, squalid, cramped conditions could cause it to spread at lightning speed.

Hospitals are already overburdened with cases of measles, malaria and other deadly infectious diseases, and conflicts have displaced hundreds of thousands of people and destroyed infrastructure.

Asking patients to self-quarantine at home is not practical in many areas, where families cram into a single room, share a communal tap or latrine, and survive on daily earnings.

According to John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Africa should brace itself for a serious challenge.

“I still believe containment is possible, but only with extensive testing and surveillance,” Nkengasong added.

Also, Dr Angok Kuol, incident manager for the outbreak at the South Sudan Ministry of Health, a country that was devastated by a five-year civil war, just has 24 isolation beds.

Kuol said public officials were trying to encourage hand-washing; however, many in the impoverished East African nation of 12 million people could not afford soap and let alone of running water.

The health ministry in Burkina Faso, which is under siege from jihadist groups linked to Islamic State and al Qaeda, said in a report recently that the country lacked the resources to deal with the outbreak. (Reuters/NAN)


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