Tag Archives: Jack Ma Foundation

Together we can win the war against COVID-19

— Dr. John Nkengasong, Director of Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC)

BY: 

KINGSLEY IGHOBOR

 Virologist Dr. John Nkengasong is the director of the Addis-based Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC). It was established by the African Union to support member states’ public health initiatives and strengthen public health institutions’ capacity to detect, prevent, control and respond to disease threats and outbreaks quickly and effectively. On Thursday 26 March Dr. Nkengasong talked to Africa Renewal’s Kingsley Ighobor about COVID-19 and Africa’s response capability. Here are some excerpts:

Africa Renewal: How prepared is Africa to respond to COVID-19?

Dr. Nkengasong: We were fortunate that COVID-19 didn’t start in Africa. We had time to observe what happened in China in December 2019 and January 2020, and rapidly prepare countries to respond in key areas. One of those is diagnostics. By the second week of February, just Senegal and South Africa could diagnose COVID-19. So, in Senegal, we quickly brought together representatives of laboratories from 16 African countries, trained them and gave them diagnostic equipment. After that we conducted competency-based training in South Africa, where we also provided diagnostic equipment. Then we came back again to Senegal and trained another group. So far, we have trained representatives of laboratories from 48 countries. The cases being detected now are because of that massive effort.

What are the other areas?

The second area we focused on was infection prevention and control. We recognized that COVID-19 could overwhelm our healthcare facilities and that nurses and doctors could be affected. We cannot afford to have 3,000 doctors or healthcare workers infected, as was the case in China. So, we immediately brought representatives of 35 countries together in Nigeria and trained them on infection prevention and control. In Kenya we brought together representatives of more than 30 countries for training in enhanced airport, airline and port-of-entry screening.

Then we went to Tunisia and trained countries on communicating risk to the general public.

How is the African Union providing support?

We are using all expertise — from member states, Africa CDC and WHO — to respond to COVID-19.

At the political level, Africa CDC and the African Union Commission, under the leadership of chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat convened a meeting of all health ministers on 22 February where we agreed on the need to have a coordinated continental strategy that hinges on cooperation, collaboration, coordination and communication.

The second outcome of that meeting was the establishment of the Africa Task Force for Coronavirus Preparedness and Response. The infection prevention and control part of that task force is co-led by Nigeria and Africa CDC. The laboratory part of it is co-led by Senegal, Africa CDC and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

What are the key challenges so far?

There are serious challenges in supplies. In New York, you hear the governor talk about shortages of respirators and other supplies. In Africa, we don’t manufacture these items; we import them. But now that the world is consuming a lot of what is produced, it is becoming difficult for us to obtain such items that will allow us to better prepare and respond.

What do you plan to do about this?

We have been working very hard with the office of the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, and the Jack Ma Foundation, who jointly launched an initiative to support African countries with a huge shipment of diagnostic equipment. I’ll call it the “marathon mission” because we have seven [Africa CDC] personnel at the airport coordinating with Ethiopian Airlines, WHO and the Ethiopian government to distribute throughout Africa about one million testing kits, six million masks, and 60,000 protective suits.

The current stock will buy us time for about two to three weeks. But in the next couple of weeks we need, as Africans, to have our own stock. Africa CDC and the AU will be heading out all over the world to stockpile massively so that we can support member states in the fight against COVID-19.

How is Africa CDC collaborating with WHO?

We are collaborating very well with WHO. I also wear a double hat as Dr. Tedros’s [Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general] special envoy for Africa on COVID-19.

We just finished a call with Dr. Matshidiso Moeti [WHO Regional Director for Africa] and two days ago, she and I discussed coordination and advocacy strategies. WHO has also played an important role in shipping diagnostic [equipment] to countries.

What information do you have regarding vaccine development and accessibility?

We are not close to a vaccine. We will be fortunate to have a vaccine in the next one to one-and-a-half years. I’m a board member of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation, which was set up after the 2013 Ebola outbreak in West Africa to facilitate the development of vaccines. Within that group, I’m also on the Equitable Access subcommittee where we champion access to vaccines for vulnerable populations.

Any lessons from that Ebola outbreak?

One lesson we learned from Ebola was the importance of the deployment of young African responders. During the Ebola crisis in West Africa, we enlisted 800 in what we called the African Healthcare Volunteer Force, and we will be doing the same to address this pandemic.

As we speak, there are more than 50 responders here [in Addis Ababa] that we have brought from different countries to support our response. And we are putting some in Nigeria and others in Cameroon. We plan to escalate that very quickly.

What is your final message to Africans?

My message to Africa is that we should adhere to the continental strategy endorsed by Africa’s health ministers in February and being championed by the chair of the African Union for 2020, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

If we do not have a continental strategy that enables us to coordinate, collaborate, cooperate effectively and communicate, we are doomed. No one country can eliminate COVID-19 in Africa alone. We must demonstrate a unity of purpose and work collectively to wage and win the war against COVID-19. We don’t have a choice.

For more information on COVID-19, visit www.un.org/coronavirus

Africa Renewal

 

WHO: How the lessons from Ebola are helping Africa’s COVID-19 response

BY: 

AFRICA RENEWAL

 Considerable effort is going into fighting COVID-19 in Africa and worldwide. WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr. Matshidiso Moeti spoke with Africa Renewal about applying lessons learned from the continent’s Ebola virus disease response, as well as actions of continental and international solidarity to address the pandemic:

This is part 3 of a 3-part interview with WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr. Matshidiso Moeti covering Africa’s preparedness and response to the COVID-19 pandemic, what WHO is doing in support of countries, lessons learned from the Ebola response and solidarity efforts underway to fight the spread of the virus.

Africa Renewal: What has the Ebola response taught Africa about how to prepare for COVID-19?

Dr. Moeti: The important lesson we learned from the Ebola outbreak, which is being applied now, is how to start work early at the community level, because communities are key at the start of an outbreak, in terms of surveillance and recognizing patterns of illness.

We have engaged the people strongly, working through community groups to disseminate information about the pattern of the coronavirus disease and how to protect oneself. We have also learned that it is important not only to tell people things, but to also listen to them and to incorporate that information into our strategies. There is a huge amount of information — some of it incorrect — circulating about this coronavirus, and we have learned from the Ebola experience to reach out; not just to send radio messages, but to talk to people and hear them.

We have also built on the capacity already put in place for the Ebola outbreak. For example, some of the laboratory testing capacity was built around the Ebola experience. We learned a lot about point-of-entry screening of people through work on Ebola and have now started a strong partnership with the International Organization for Migration (IOM). We have learned a lot also about the rapid exchange of capacities, including those of laboratories, between countries.

In relation to the lessons learned from the Ebola outbreak, one of the things that I’m hoping will help us is testing out therapeutics even as we are using them. In carrying out clinical trials, we learned how to bring partners together. We are seeing many coalitions of technical agencies, the private sector and WHO coming together to look at therapeutics and vaccine development. I think these are some of the precious lessons that came out of the Ebola experience and will be very useful during this pandemic.

What continental solidarity efforts are under way?

At the continental level, one of the first and most important issues for us, was that diagnostic capacity was very limited in the region. At the beginning we had only two laboratories able to diagnose COVID-19 and they offered their services to other African countries. We were shipping specimens to Dakar’s Institut Pasteur and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in Johannesburg, who have also been training other countries.

We have seen an exchange of expertise between countries, and ministers of health networking among themselves to exchange their own experiences and offer each other ideas. I think there’s been a real openness towards providing support to each other among African countries and I’m certain that we’ll continue to see this solidarity.

And the private sector?

The private sector has also offered its services. We have seen an outpouring of support, particularly in terms of messaging from some of the communications companies. We will be partnering with them to make sure people get essential messages about how to protect themselves and others.

What are some of the international solidarity efforts under way?

We have seen real international generosity and solidarity around this outbreak. For example, the Jack Ma Foundation offered one of the most acutely needed commodities in the response: testing kits. We have also seen generosity on the part of international donors. Some, like the European Union, have offered funding particularly to low-income countries.

The World Bank has released $12 billion in funding and quite a few countries have offered financing. Foundations and pharmaceutical companies have offered their support too.

How will we know when we have COVID-19 under control and that it is safe for us all to stop social distancing?

The responses of individuals, families and households to facilitate the reduction or halt of transmission is one of the biggest adjustments [being made] and the most important part of this response. Right now, we are not certain when we will start to see the end of this outbreak. We have seen some countries, like China, emerge at the other end of the peak and we believe South Korea is on that path. They are being very deliberate in relaxing some of these restrictions. I’ve seen people in China very joyful as they came out into their gardens for the first time in the last few days, but even then, their movement is still limited.

We all need to make sure that when we open up the spaces to allow people to start moving around, we continue to carefully monitor the evolution of COVID-19 on a day-to-day basis for any new infections before we can allow life to go back to normal.

Do you have a final message?

My message is that we’re all in this together. Solidarity, sympathy, and helping and supporting each other are what’s going to bring us out of this outbreak. Starting at the individual level, I’ve been impressed to see how people have offered their time to support others. For example, where [free] movement of people is prohibited, young people have been willing to go and help elderly people get their shopping. We are starting to see more and more of this in African countries too.

People are prepared to share their knowledge and information to support each other and we’ve seen solidarity also among countries. So, for example, the fact that China was prepared to send some of its experts to a European country to help bring to bear quickly the lessons [it had] learned is the sort of international solidarity we expect to see.

One of the most important demonstrations of this solidarity, in my view, is to not only protect ourselves, but to be responsible for protecting others. So, what we have learned about not shaking each other’s hands; not greeting in certain ways; giving up going to church, even if we find that a very important part of our daily life, are demonstrations that we are thinking of other people, even as we think of ourselves. That’s the message that I’d like to leave. If governments announce measures that they think are going to make a difference, let’s not wait until we are policed or chased around to comply. It’s very important that we enforce these important practices that will help to stop the virus.

 For more information on COVID-19, visit www.un.org/coronavirus

Africa Renewal