Ebola Epidemic May Help Africa Dodge the Coronavirus Bullet


08 February 2020, 18:22

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Volunteer disinfects a residential compound to prevent and control the novel coronavirus, in Ganzhou

The World Health Organization is scaling up measures to keep Africa free of the deadly coronavirus by shoring up the continent’s fragile health system and by increasing preparedness efforts to tackle the potential spread of the dangerous virus to the continent.    WHO reports 31,211 cases, including 637 deaths inside China, and 270 cases in 24 countries and two deaths outside mainland China, VOA news reports.

The novel coronavirus has been moving with breathtaking speed since it was first detected in China’s Wuhan city in December.  While this pneumonia-like illness has been expanding to more countries around the world, it so far has not penetrated Africa.  

This is of little comfort to WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti.  She tells VOA watching the virus reach other continents around the world is of great concern.  

“We know that there is quite significant travel of people from China to Africa and back.  So, businesspeople, both Chinese people working in different African countries.  And, we have an intense travel of African businesspeople, particularly going to China.  So, we are concerned.” 

Moeti says her team has begun working with member states to help them get ready for the possible onset of the coronavirus.  She says WHO is providing overall guidance to ministers of health on how to manage possible cases and prevent further spread of the disease.

She says the experience gained in tackling the Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo can be applied to a possible outbreak of the coronavirus on the continent.

“We recognize that our countries have invested quite a bit in preparedness on the ongoing Ebola outbreak in the DRC.  And, we are seeing that in some of the key areas, that readiness is being now deployed in relation to this coronavirus outbreak.” 

WHO has identified 13 top priority African countries, which either have direct links or a high volume of travel to China.   They include important hubs in countries such as Angola, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and Zambia.  

Moiti says screening methods developed to detect people who might carry the Ebola virus are now being deployed at airport points of entry to spot people who might be carriers of the coronavirus. 

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