World Health Organisation (WHO) regional director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti has urged countries across Africa to more effectively mitigate the effects of the Covid-19 virus.
While the economic impact of the pandemic is severe, she lamented that fragile economies – like those found in Africa – and especially vulnerable communities would suffer the most as the virus continued to spread.
Currently Africa has more than 10 000 confirmed Covid-19 cases and more than 500 deaths.
However, with 18 countries on the continent still at less than 20 confirmed cases, Moeti said this showed the importance of strongly continuing with the implementation of public health measures to limit the spread of the virus.
These countries with so few cases, she added, were indicative of “little to no community [transmissions]” of the virus – in stark contrast to countries that have clusters of cases and community transmissions in several regions.
Countries where the virus has spread geographically beyond main cities include Algeria, Senegal, Cameroon, Burkina Faso and South Africa.
Public health measures include surveillance and tracing of cases, as well as the isolation of cases and their contacts, care and treatment for those who have the virus and the provision of information to communities to enable them to “play their part” in implementing interventions such as physical distancing, personal hygiene and the cleaning of surfaces.
Additionally, Moeti mentioned that the WHO had updated its guidance on medical-grade masks and still emphasised the use of these, particularly in healthcare settings.
However, in acknowledging that Africa had a lot of low-resource communities, Moeti said “there may be room” for the use of other adapted masks, for example masks that are made of cotton to certain specifications.
In considering this option, she indicated that it was critical to ensure that these adapted masks “do not constitute a further risk of transmission” and that “people need to be guided carefully on how to use them safely”.
Moeti also encouraged African countries to get involved in Covid-19 vaccine trials, on the basis that these were conducted in respect of the international standards in terms of ethics.
Additionally, Moeti emphasised that the establishment of humanitarian corridors was critical during the pandemic, as these would enable the movement of people, expertise and supplies needed for the response to Covid-19, as well as the provision of basic services.
Linked to this was continuing service regarding priority health concerns, considering that Africa has a lot of people who have HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and even malaria. In addition, women needed to continue having safe deliveries and children needed to be immunised, she said.
This was similar to what humanitarian aid corridor United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) regional director for West and Central Africa Marie-Pierre Porier discussed during a later segment of the webinar.
While children have been “relatively spared” from the Covid-19 virus, when compared to adults (particularly the elderly), Unicef was concerned about the number of children that have been affected, beyond health, by the pandemic.
In just a few months, Covid-19 has affected the lives of hundreds of millions of children across the globe, with many now being out of school, living in situations where parents have lost their jobs, or find themselves in situations with increasing domestic violence and abuse.
These challenges are further exacerbated by the fact that children in Africa are already growing up in a challenging environment, where the region is grappling with multiple shocks, conflicts, displacements and malnutrition.
In the 24 countries across West and Central Africa, about 120-million children are currently out of school. This is a stark rise from the 41-million prior to the pandemic, she lamented.
Additionally, while Covid-19 “does not discriminate”, Porier argued that “its impact does”. This, she elaborated, was “because the vulnerable are the hardest hit”.
In this regard, Porier said Unicef was working to keep children healthy and, with help from its partners, was endeavouring to continue ensuring that lifesaving, maternal, newborn and children health services were sustained.