Corona virus – Africa needs to step up to the plate


Corona virus – Africa needs to step up to the plate

The outbreak of the corona virus in China should be a cause for worry across Africa where many countries’ health delivery systems are not ready to deal with an epidemic of such magnitude due to under-funding. 

Despite the fact that the Abuja Declaration of 2001 stipulates that at least 15 percent of countries’ budgets should be channeled towards health, many African states have still not met this threshold, leaving their health delivery systems in shambles. Instead, there is more budgetary support for defence and security in many African states, while corruption and mis-governance has seen billions of public funds siphoned away. 

But the outbreak of the corona virus should be reality check for African leaders.  Over the years, political and economic relations between China and many African countries have been growing from strength to strength, resulting in increased travel by people to and from the Asian economic giant.  While this has brought about many positives, it is when epidemics such as the corona virus outbreak hit the Asian nation that sends shivers across Africa.

The coronavirus outbreak, which began December 2019 in Wuhan, China, has now made its way across the world. The coronavirus (2019-nCoV) detected in Wuhan belongs to a large family of viruses that mostly affects animals -- but this coronavirus, like SARS, "jumped the species barrier" to infect people, according to the Centres for Disease Control.

Coronavirus symptoms can look like a common cold -- they include a cough, fever, and trouble breathing. Severe cases can lead to pneumonia, kidney failure and even death. It can take a week after getting infected before showing any symptoms.

Scientists believe this coronavirus started in another animal and then spread to humans. Chinese officials say the disease can be transmitted through contact as well as water droplets -- for instance, if you touched something and the virus got on your hand, then you touched your eyes.

There's no vaccine for the virus yet. To protect against it, people must avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms like coughing and sneezing. They must also wash their hands often with soap and water, cover the mouth and nose when they cough or sneeze, wear a surgical mask, and disinfect surfaces they touch.

So far its fatality rate appears to be lower than similar viruses like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) which hit China and other Asian nations a few years ago, but researchers are still gathering data and racing to contain the virus.

The death toll from the Wuhan coronavirus had by early this week topped 100, and authorities in China and across the world were working to contain the disease. There are 4,591 confirmed cases worldwide, of which more than 70 are in places outside China, including the US and Australia.

While there no reported cases in Africa yet, it is the continent’s state of preparedness that worries, given the volume of Chinese people and also people from different countries on the continent visiting China almost on a daily basis that should be a cause for concern.

Given that the virus appears to be spreading rapidly -- there was a 65% jump in reported cases in mainland China in just one day and in Thailand, six more cases were confirmed Tuesday, bringing the national total to 14, are African countries prepared to deal with the corona virus? Are their health deliver systems up to scratch and what measures have been put in place to detect the spread of the disease across African borders?

Already, China has put some 60 million people are under travel restrictions in Hubei province. The provincial capital Wuhan is under almost complete lockdown, with no movement in or out. In several cities, businesses and schools have been closed for the next few weeks.  Hospital staff in Hubei province are struggling to cope with the number of patients, and supplies are running low. China has deployed 1,800 more medical personnel to the province to help.

Numerous countries, including the US, have stepped up airport screenings and warned their citizens not to travel to China. Some places like Indonesia and the Philippines have restricted Chinese tourists, or have begun planning evacuations of their citizens in Wuhan.

Chinese and international scientists are studying the virus, tracking its origin and working on a vaccine -- but a vaccine could take months for clinical trials to begin and more than a year before it becomes available.

It is therefore incumbent upon African countries to take pro-active measures to ensure that this virus does not spread on the continent, which already has its own multitude of problems, including fighting other diseases like HIV/Aids, malaria, tuberculosis and ebola.  In fact, a few years ago, countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo struggled to overcome an outbreak of ebola whose effects are still being felt.

Countries on the continent therefore need to up their efforts to abide by the Abuja Declaration of 2001 which stipulated that 15 percent of their national budgets should go towards health delivery systems.    

Governments on the continent must therefore not bury their heads in the sand but must effect sound preventative systems. These include closely monitoring those travelling to and from China and massive information dissemination to educate the public on the signs and symptoms of the corona virus.  Africa cannot afford to be hit by another health epidemic.





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