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Looming threat of COVID-19 infection in Africa: act collectively, and fast

Research snapshot1

Because of the high volume of air traffic and trade between China and Africa, Africa is at  high risk of the introduction and spread of the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). With neither treatment nor vaccines and without pre-existing immunity, the effect could be devastating due to weak healthcare systems and the multiple health challenges the continent already faces. A report by Gilbert and colleagues (2019) in The Lancet identifies each African country’s risk of importation of COVID-19 from China, using data on the volume of air travel from three airports in provinces in China to African countries. Looking at preparedness and vulnerability, the authors determine the capacity of countries to detect and respond to cases.

Using information from this report, the authors propose a framework of action to prepare the continent for any potential importation and spread of COVID-19. Actions include: 1) set up a unified, continent-wide strategy for preparedness and response, including scaling up diagnostic testing (as testing becomes more available, it is possible that more cases might be detected); 2) ensure committed political will to act fast and collectively (the potential social, economic and security devastation that COVID-19 could cause should be sufficient incentive for governments to invest immediately in preparedness for the worst-case scenario); 3) commit and release financial resources from partners and donors to anticipate demand and address supply-chain management, mapping and stockpiling of COVID-19 response needs (supplies of these items will be limited in Africa because of reduced manufacturing capacity); 4) cooperate and collaborate to optimise limited supplies; 5) develop and put in place proper quarantine and infection-control protocols, including procedures for implementing social distancing (mass gathering and potential closure of public facilities); and 6) intensify capacity-building training efforts (medical staff at major hospitals must be trained in the proper protocols of quarantining individuals who are at risk of COVID-19 infection, as well as isolation and safe treatment of patients who test positive). The window of opportunity to act is narrowing. Africa needs to be supported to act now, and needs to act fast.


Endnotes

1 John N Nkengasong and Wessam Mankoula. 2020. Looming threat of COVID-19 infection in Africa: act collectively, and fast. Comment. The Lancet. Published Online February 27, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30464-5.


References

Gilbert M, Pullano G, Pinotti G et al. Preparedness and vulnerability of African countries against importations of COVID-19: a modelling study. Lancet. 2020; (published online Feb 19.) https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30411-6

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Looming threat of COVID-19 infection in Africa: act collectively, and fast. Field Exchange 62, April 2020. p49. www.ennonline.net/fex/62/threatofcovid19infectioninafrica

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