Tag Archives: Risk Communication

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

 

How World Health Organization is helping African countries deal with COVID-19

BY:

AFRICA RENEWAL

As the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues to spread across Africa, countries are ramping up efforts to contain it. World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa Dr. Matshidiso Moeti spoke with Africa Renewal about the continent’s preparedness and response to the global pandemic:

This is part 2 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.

What is WHO Africa doing to support countries and communities in the fight against this virus?

We have worked hard, with the support of our headquarters and in partnership with many other organizations, including the African Union, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) and other UN agencies, to support [African] countries. First, early on in preparation we carried out a significant amount of training for healthcare workers in surveillance, case management and laboratory diagnostics. Some capacity has also been built through WHO training.

We have also helped our member states develop national response plans. I believe almost all member states have now developed a plan, which is central to their being able to mobilize the resources needed for a good state of readiness and to enable them to respond should they have COVID-19 cases. We have sent about 80 experts from WHO to 30 countries.
We have also mobilized experts among countries to exchange expertise and help carry out such functions such as establishing an incident management system — one of the most critical [elements] because it is where all the data is put together and [through which] actions to be taken are coordinated.

We have helped many countries set up rapid response teams — so that they know exactly who has to go where, to do what — in order to make sure they are [fully prepared]. We have worked with partners and with other UN agencies to help countries prepare, recognizing that the response to this pandemic does not lie in the actions of the health sector only. We need all governments to respond and a multi-sectoral response among the UN agencies. For example, we are expecting our colleagues at UNICEF to help in risk communication and community engagement so that people get the information that they need. Then we follow up with what people are hearing and believing to make sure they take the correct measures to protect themselves.

Another example is our strong promotion of hand hygiene: hand-washing. We know that in many of our countries, water is simply not easily available — you don’t just reach out and turn on a tap. Many households don’t have running water and others may be using communal taps. We will be working with our partners to make sure that water is available. Some UN agencies, particularly now in the context of [people’s] reduced movement, have the capacity to support these logistics. They have aeroplanes and ways of moving people, equipment and supplies around. These are the partnerships that we are setting up within the UN and with bilateral agencies to support action within countries.

At the start of the preparedness activities, we procured some supplies to this work. For example, laboratory kits and equipment, as well as supplies for personal protection, including masks and gloves, and other kits meant to help protect healthcare workers and ensure they do not get infected in the course of their work on this outbreak.

How is WHO Africa working with Africa CDC on continental COVID-19 preparedness and response?

We are working a great deal with Africa CDC and with the African Union Commission, of which the Africa CDC is a technical body. We have carried out a lot of training together on the different aspects of preparedness and response; on laboratory capacity-building, testing, case management and surveillance. So, we have really worked hand-in-hand with Africa CDC.

At the political level, they have organized, and we have participated in, ministerial meetings attended by all African countries. We briefed them on the most important interventions to put in place and how to work with WHO, Africa CDC and other partners. We, in turn, organized sub-regional meetings of partners in Nairobi and Dakar for the West, Central, East and Southern African regions. Africa CDC was a very active participant in those meetings, at which we agreed how they would work with us and other UN agencies, bilateral partners and technical agencies so that we synergize our efforts. We are working very closely with them and, in fact, the director of Africa CDC [Dr. John Nkengasong] was nominated as a WHO Goodwill Ambassador for this work.

How close are we to a COVID-19 vaccine and what can be done to ensure that it is accessible to all?

A great deal of work is going on to identify a candidate vaccine that might be viable against this virus. I believe there are about 20 vaccines being tested at the moment by different researchers. Some of our experience in developing a vaccine for the Ebola virus, for example, is being used now to promote partnership and sharing of information around the development of a [coronavirus] vaccine.

Developing a vaccine, even in this fast-track mode of working, takes some time, so we don’t expect there to be a vaccine available this year, at least. But we are encouraged by the determination and the efforts being put into finding a vaccine. We need to work with the partners that traditionally ensure access to vaccines to prepare African countries to receive and use any vaccine. We work closely with the regulatory authorities in these countries, so what we can offer is linking up with them early on to make sure that there are no obstacles and delays in making the vaccine in the countries.

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

Africa Renewal