Tag Archives: WHO

In Africa schools are closed, but learning goes on

Countries use radio, TV and internet to keep students engaged

By Franck Kuwonu

As students in Kenya were waiting for the government to announce when schools would re-

Education

Igihozo, 11, listens to a lesson on a radio after his school was closed in Rwanda. UNICEF/UNI319836/Kanobana

open from a longer than usual April school holidays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they were asked to stay home for an additional four-week period.

The situation is the same in many other countries. Across the African continent, an estimated 297 million students have been affected by school closures as a result of the pandemic.

Globally, school closures due to COVID-19 have affected 1.29 billion students in 186 countries, which is 73.8 per cent of the world’s student population, according to the UN Education Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

“Never before have we witnessed educational disruption on such a scale,” UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said recently.

Despite the challenges of limited access to internet connectivity, electricity or computers, countries are keeping learning active through various remote learning  methods such as radio and television programmes, on addition to online platforms and social media.

Online learning

In Egypt, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Morocco, Rwanda, South Africa and others, a number of schools and universities have moved some of their programmes to  online platforms and have encouraged students to get connected.

The University of Ghana, for example, has trained its lecturers on how to put together online classes, while negotiating with telecom companies to grant free internet data, usually capped at 5G, for the students.

Victoria, 21, one of the millions of young people in Ghana impacted by school closures said: “I stay connected, getting myself busy with online lectures, having interactions with friends.

Victoria told UNICEF that she avoids crowded places and prefers to stay safe at home. “I also try to learn new things I haven’t done before – getting used to cooking, reading more books. Sometimes dancing if I have to, just to take off the stress and not feel very bored at home.”

In Nigeria and Morocco, the governments have created online repositories with education materials for teachers and parents, while the Rwanda education board has set up a dedicated website to support learning and provide educational content, as well as assessment tests. The website also enables teachers and parents to communicate.

However, due to low internet connection, expensive data and an urban-rural digital divide, online classes alone are unable to cater for all students. This creates the risk of leaving millions of students in Africa behind. In sub-Saharan Africa, UNESCO says 89 per cent of learners do not have access to household computers and 82 per cent lack internet access.

At the launch in March of the Global Coalition for Education, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “We are working together to find a way to make sure that children everywhere can continue their education, with special care for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities.”

The UNESCO and UNICEF-led initiative of international organizations, civil society and private sector partners aims to ensure that learning continues. It will help countries mobilize resources and implement innovative and context-appropriate solutions to provide learning remotely by leveraging on hi-tech, low-tech and no-tech approaches.

Radio schools

Countries are increasingly also promoting remote learning through traditional mass communication tools such as radio, and sometimes television. Radio’s wide reach and relatively low need for technical know-how makes its deployment faster and easier than scaling up internet connections.

With assistance from UN agencies such as UNICEF, UNESCO, the World Bank and others, countries are quickly scaling up their radio and TV programmes or launching new initiatives.

For example, Ghana’s public broadcasters have rekindled dormant programmes on tv and radio for high school students. Similar programmes are running in Madagascar and Côte d’Ivoire.
In Senegal, the government’s efforts are encapsulated in a catchy slogan: “Ecole fermée, mais cahiers ouverts,” meaning “school is closed but learning goes on”.

Radio Okapi, an UN-sponsored radio network in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), launched Okapi Ecole (Okapi School) – a twice-daily remote learning programme for primary, secondary and vocational school students.

In Rwanda, UNICEF is working with the Rwanda Broadcasting Agency to produce and air nationwide basic literacy and numeracy classes. UNICEF identified more than 100 radio scripts from around the world focusing on basic literacy and numeracy that could be adapted to align with Rwanda’s school curriculum. The same support is being provided to Malawi.

In Côte d’Ivoire, UNICEF has been working with the Ministry of Education on a ‘school at home’ initiative that includes taping lessons to be aired on national TV.

Looking beyond COVID-19, the Association of African Universities (AAU) sees an opportunity for local universities to explore expanding “technology-based platforms for teaching, learning and research.” Still, challenges such as network infrastructure, data prices and access to adequate digital equipment will need to be addressed for this to be a continent-wide success.

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

Africa Renewal

WHO Donates COVID-19 Supplies to MOH within the framework of the UN joint effort aimed at supporting government to scale up preparedness and response actions.

23 May 2020, Since Zambia reported its first case of COVID 19 on 18 March 2020, cases have been on the upswing. During recent weeks confirmed cases rose from 103 on 1 May 2020 to 920 by May 22 with a total number of seven deaths. Zambia has also seen an increase of cases of COVID-19 in the northern town of Nakonde due to a porous border. More than 80 health workers have been affected by the virus countrywide.

The WHO Representative, Dr. Nathan Bakyaita handing over the donated items to the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Health, Dr. Kennedy Malama (right)

On 22 May 2020, the World Health Organization Country Office donated Personal Protective Equipment, emergency equipment for the Emergency Operations Centre and laboratory supplies worth more than seven hundred thousand United States Dollars to the Ministry of Health. This donation has been made possible through the UK Department for International Development (DFID) funded Emergency Preparedness, Surveillance and Outbreak Response project and financial support from WHO Headquarters and the WHO Regional Office for Africa. The WHO Representative, Dr. Nathan Bakyaita said that WHO working jointly with other United Nations agencies in Zambia was in a race against time to help the country respond and prevent further spread of the virus. “We are supporting the country in containment and mitigation efforts by providing necessary support for coordination, surveillance, infection prevention and control, laboratory, case management, risk communication, logistics and human resource capacity”. Dr Bakyaita was accompanied by the United Nations Resident Coordinator, Dr. Coumba Mar Gadio, the UNICEF Representative, Ms Noala Skinner, the UNESCO Zambia Team Leader, Ms Alice Mwewa Saili and the UK DFID Country Director, Mr. Steve Beel.

The United Nations Resident Coordinator, Dr. Coumba Mar Gadio said that the donation made to the Ministry of Health by WHO of laboratory equipment and reagents and provision of

The UN Resident Coordinator, Dr. Coumba Mar Gadio making a statement at the function.

Personal Protective Equipment for health workers was of paramount importance. “Health care workers should be able to access masks, gloves, gowns, and other PPE they require to do their jobs safely and effectively. Our health systems are already facing shortages of critical human resources such as doctors and nurses, we cannot afford to lose them now” she said.

The DFID Country Director Mr. Steve Beel stated that the COVID-19 pandemic was a global challenge and that DFID was committed to continue providing support to the government in its response efforts.

When receiving the donation, the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Health, Dr. Kennedy Malama said that the donation was timely because it was targeted at supporting the implementation of the National Contingency Plan for COVID-19. He said the donated items were a high impact investment for the COVID -19 response and that support for the Emergency Operations Centre would be useful for the current emergency and other public health threats. Dr. Malama thanked the United Nations in Zambia, the WHO Regional Office for Africa, WHO HQ and the UK Government for the support rendered towards the COVID-19 response and health development programmes in general.

The United Nations in Zambia has remained a key partner in the country’s multi-sectoral response with the World Health Organization leading the joint effort.

For Additional Information or to Request Interviews, Please contact:
Nora Mweemba
Health Information and Promotion Officer
Tel: 255322 /255336, 255398, Cell: 097873976
Email: mweemban@who.int

UN Resident Coordinator Highlights Role of Communication in COVID-19 fight

Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Lusaka, 14 May 2020: The UN Zambia Resident Coordinator Dr Coumba Mar Gadio today visited the COVID-19 Call Centre at the Zambia National Public Health Institute (ZNPHI) in Lusaka to familiarize herself with operations and convey UN Zambia support to Risk Communication and Community Engagement activities led by the Government through the Ministry of Health and ZNPHI.

Dr. Coumba Mar Gadio, stressing a point during the tour of the Covid Call Centre at Zambia National Public Health Institute (ZNPHI) in Lusaka. Photo Credit UNIC/Lusaka/2020/05/14 Charles Nonde

Speaking after the tour, Dr Gadio underscored the importance of communication in the fight against COVID-19. “The fight against coronavirus in a fight against a virus but also a fight against misinformation. I am happy that this call centre which the UN system supports through UNICEF, UNFPA and WHO is helping provide information to the public on the pandemic and also helping correct myths and misconceptions that people receive everyday through a myriad of ways,” said Dr Gadio. “The UN is supporting Risk Communication and Community Engagement by not only giving information to the public but also listening to them and tailoring messages accordingly as the pandemic evolves. No one should be left behind. Community members have a key role in fighting COVID-19 so it is important that we help them get accurate information and follow the prevention guidelines given by the Ministry of Health,” she added.

Under the lead of the World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Nations has supported the Government on the development of a multisectoral contingency plan and assessment of the socio-economic impact of the pandemic in Zambia.

With support from cooperating partners, the UN has contributed to ongoing efforts by theGovernment including training of technical staff and helping strengthen surveillance in communities, procurement of personal protective equipment and essential medicines, promoting Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in health facilities and strengthening infection prevention and control. Additional support has gone towards strengthening health systems to effectively deliver health services, including supporting human resources for health to provide antenatal care, safe delivery and addressing sexual and Gender-Based Violence, which increases in times of crises.

For more information, please contact: 

United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) Lusaka, Mark Maseko, National Information Officer, P: +260-211-225-494 | M: + 260-955767062 | E: masekom@un.org

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

 

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

WHO: Africa needs more kits, surveillance and case management to tackle 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 1 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: Where is Africa in terms of preparedness and response to COVID-19? We see more countries able to test for the virus.

Dr. Moeti: I’m very encouraged by the progress countries have made overall and as far as diagnostic capacity is concerned. Several weeks ago, we only had two labs in two countries [South Africa and Senegal] where testing for novel coronavirus was available. Now 41 countries in the African region can diagnose this virus. Countries have also made progress in point-of-entry screening and establishing follow-up surveillance mechanisms. They need to expand on this so that any health worker — and more importantly people at the community level — can recognize the signs and symptoms of this illness. These are some of the capacities that have been rapidly built up.

Where is progress on the COVID-19 response needed most?

The areas most in need of progress include making sure that countries have the necessary supplies and equipment. First, we need personal protective equipment, to protect healthcare workers, and laboratory testing kits — this is very important. Admittedly, some of this is beyond the control of individual governments. We have a global-level market distortion which means some of these items are difficult to obtain.

There is also a need to improve on surveillance in many of our member states. From the point of entry, there is a need for close follow-up of people travelling from highly-affected countries. Then when people are put in isolation, including self-isolation, there needs to be some means of following up to ensure that this is actually happening. We have seen how in countries like China this was robustly policed initially until people adjusted to the idea and started to implement the measures themselves.

What about establishing COVID-19 treatment centres?

We also need better case management and the establishment of treatment centres for people with COVID-19. We recognize that most of our countries do not have enough critical care beds in intensive care units, so this can be [addressed] by creating and equipping special temporary field-type hospitals in field-type spaces. Experience in providing care is relatively limited in most African countries, so we will need to find ways of using available capacities in the most efficient way. People who have mild illness or who are infected but asymptomatic do not need to be admitted to hospital, where the beds are needed for seriously ill patients. So, clearly defining models of care, and starting with an approach that leverages the capacities for those who are critically ill, is something that, in my view, needs to be improved.

Which African countries are good examples of COVID-19 preparedness and response?

We have seen different countries manifest diverse aspects that are critical, at the political level, to a successful response. For example, some heads of state have made commitments to or have established high-level response mechanism, while others have set up commissions to coordinate their response. This has happened in countries like Kenya, South Africa and Ghana, among others. The most senior politicians – Heads of state – are being briefed on a regular basis by their ministers of health, prime ministers (who are sometimes coordinating these mechanisms) and also by our WHO country representatives.

We have also seen many countries communicating and encouraging people to take protective measures. Others have put in place measures that encourage people to self-isolate at home. Schools have been closed in South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda and other countries all over the region.

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

Africa Renewal

 

Amid the risk of COVID-19 transmission in Zambia, some practices just have to change

By Charles Nonde, Public Information Assistant

As at 3 April 2020, Zambia had recorded a total of 39 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with Lusaka, the capital city accounting for 36. While the number of cases might appear low in comparison to other countries on the continent and the world at large, the message from the Government, United Nations and other stakeholders is clear – it is not time to relax!

One underlying issue which is also a threat is the spirit of “Ubuntu” vis-a-vis the ability of people to stay at home, practice physical distancing and cutting non-essential travel. This is a very big challenge. To start with, most of the people depend on public transport, walk in large groups as

Community Volunteers stick COVID-19 posters in Lusaka to encourage behaviour change, posters produced with UN support. Picture courtesy of UNICEF Zambia.

they get to various destinations or the communities in which they live have a very high population density that makes physical distancing a huge challenge. The Government, United Nations and various partners have ramped up support to spread prevention messages to the public through TV, radio and other means including digital platforms. People are encouraged to wash their hands, keep their surroundings clean, practice physical distancing, cut down all non-essential travel, among other measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 that has so far claimed about a million lives globally.

In the wake of all these measures, high density areas, streets and public transport are proving to be high risk settings and a cause of concern. Commuters have raised worry as most of the operators have refused to reduce the number of passengers on their buses to the recommended half capacity stating that they would be running at a loss. They have, instead chosen to adhere to the need to provide water and soap for people to wash their hands before boarding buses.

Another dimension is that many people depend on selling various merchandise on the streets of Lusaka to provide for their families. While the Lusaka City Council announced on 1st April 2020 that it was banning street vending and urged street vendors to move into markets dotted around the city and vending in approved areas which have the necessary measures put in place, the news has not been well received as people are worried about how they would support their families if they cannot go on the streets to trade.

A walk in many peri-urban compound settlements shows that it is ‘business as usual’ as people are continuing with their everyday lives as if there was no COVID-19 outbreak, a direct real threat on their lives. Physical distancing is an alien concept and not being practiced – a very serious concern. Some people wrongly believe that they cannot get the virus because they had not traveled out of the country. Misinformation on social media is also giving way to misdirection and a false sense of security.

The danger of COVID-19 is very clear as noted during the daily briefings by the country’s Health Minister, Dr. Chitalu Chilufya, who has indicated that the disease had now become a local transmission problem, calling on everyone in the country, especially residents of Lusaka, the epic centre, to be vigilant and follow the laid out guidelines by the government and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

One cannot help but wonder what more can be done to encourage communities, traders and public service transporters to ensure that people comply with the government statutory instruments and the WHO guidelines. Among many activities as part of the UN Zambia joint response is a UNICEF- supported song entitled “Together We Can” a collaboration by some of Zambia’s finest artists encouraging people to wash their hands and practice physical distancing, among other preventative measures to help prevent the spread of the corona-virus.

As stated by Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General “We are in this together” hence the need for all of us to play our part and ensure the safety of our families, communities and the world at large is safe guarded by doing our part in flattening the curve.

All hands on deck to fight a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic

By António Guterres

Only by coming together will the world be able to face down the COVID-19 pandemic and its shattering consequences. At an emergency virtual meeting last Thursday, G20 leaders took

UNSG Antonio Guterres

steps in the right direction. But we are still far away from having a coordinated, articulated global response that meets the unprecedented magnitude of what we are facing.

Far from flattening the curve of infection, we are still well behind it. The disease initially took 67 days to infect 100,000 people; soon, 100,000 people and more will be infected daily. Without concerted and courageous action, the number of new cases will almost certainly escalate into the millions, pushing health systems to the breaking point, economies into a nosedive and people into despair, with the poorest hit hardest.

We must prepare for the worst and do everything to avoid it. Here is a three-point call to action — based on science, solidarity and smart policies — for doing just that.

First, suppress transmission of the coronavirus.

That requires aggressive and early testing and contact tracing, complemented by quarantines, treatment, and measures to keep first responders safe, combined with measures to restrict movement and contact. Such steps, despite the disruptions they cause, must be sustained until therapies and a vaccine emerge.

Crucially, this robust and cooperative effort should be guided by the World Health Organization, a member of the United Nations family; countries acting on their own – as they must for their people – will not get the job done for all.

Second, tackle the devastating social and economic dimensions of the crisis.

The virus is spreading like wildfire, and is likely to move swiftly into the Global South, where health systems face constraints, people are more vulnerable, and millions live in densely populated slums or crowded settlements for refugees and internally displaced persons. Fuelled by such conditions, the virus could devastate the developing world and then re-emerge where it was previously suppressed. In our interconnected world, we are only as strong as the weakest health systems.

Clearly, we must fight the virus for all of humanity, with a focus on people, especially the most affected: women, older persons, youth, low-wage workers, small and medium enterprises, the informal sector and vulnerable groups.

The United Nations has just issued reports documenting how the viral contagion has become an economic contagion, and setting out the financing needed to address the shocks. The International Monetary Fund has declared that we have entered a recession as bad as or worse than in 2009.

We need a comprehensive multilateral response amounting to a double-digit percentage of global Gross Domestic Product.

Developed countries can do it by themselves, and some are indeed doing it. But we must massively increase the resources available to the developing world by expanding the capacity of the IMF, namely through the issuance of special drawing rights, and of the other international financial institutions so that they can rapidly inject resources into the countries that need them. I know this is difficult as nations find themselves increasing domestic spending by record amounts. But that spending will be in vain if we don’t control the virus.

Coordinated swaps among central banks can also bring liquidity to emerging economies. Debt alleviation must also be a priority – including immediate waivers on interest payments for 2020.

Third, recover better.

We simply cannot return to where we were before COVID-19 struck, with societies unnecessarily vulnerable to crisis. The pandemic has reminded us, in the starkest way possible, of the price we pay for weaknesses in health systems, social protections and public services. It has underscored and exacerbated inequalities, above all gender inequity, laying bare the way in which the formal economy has been sustained on the back of invisible and unpaid care labour. It has highlighted ongoing human rights challenges, including stigma and violence against women.

Now is the time to redouble our efforts to build more inclusive and sustainable economies and societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics, climate change and other global challenges. The recovery must lead to a different economy. Our roadmap remains the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals.

The United Nations system is fully mobilized: supporting country responses, placing our supply chains at the world’s disposal, and advocating for a global cease-fire.

Ending the pandemic everywhere is both a moral imperative and a matter of enlightened self-interest. At this unusual moment, we cannot resort to the usual tools. Extraordinary times demand extraordinary measures. We face a colossal test which demands decisive, coordinated and innovative action from all, for all.

The article first appeared in The Guardian.

The author is Secretary-General of the United Nations

UN stands with Zambia as the country confirms 16 COVID-19 cases

PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Lusaka, 27 March 2020: Following the announcement that Zambia has now confirmed 16 cases

Dr. Coumba Mar Gadio, UN Resident Coordinator Zambia.

of COVID-19, the United Nations family in Zambia under the leadership of the Resident Coordinator stands in solidarity with the Government and people of Zambia as they respond to the global pandemic.

“As the United Nations, we stand with Zambia and pledge our continued assistance through the Government in ensuring that the pandemic is contained. Under the lead of the World Health Organisation (WHO), we will continue supporting the Government with contingency planning and response, resource mobilisation and Risk Communication and Community Engagement.”

“With support from our cooperating partners, the UN will contribute to ongoing efforts by the Government including training of technical staff and helping strengthen surveillance in communities, procurement of personal protective equipment and essential medicines, promoting Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in health facilities and strengthening infection prevention and control,” said UN Resident Coordinator, Dr Coumba Mar Gadio.

Additional support will go towards strengthening health systems to effectively deliver health services, including supporting human resources for health to provide antenatal care, safe delivery and addressing sexual and Gender-Based Violence, which increases in times of crises.

The UN is also working with the Government on the development of a multisectoral contingency plan, leaving no one behind, and assessment of the socio-economic impact of the pandemic in Zambia.

Members of the public are key in helping respond to COVID-19. Every individual should do their part while avoiding panic and stigmatization to prevent the spread of COVID-19 including regular and correct hand washing with soap and water.

Other measures include coughing or sneezing into a tissue or a bent elbow, being sure to safely dispose of the tissue afterwards, maintaining a distance of at least one meter from one another (also called social distancing) whether or not that person is coughing or sneezing, avoiding touching the eyes, nose and mouth. It is also important to seek medical attention early if a person develops a fever, cough or difficulty in breathing as well as to stay at home if ill.

Zambia joins over 44 other African countries with confirmed cases of COVID-19.

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For more information, please contact:

United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) Lusaka, Mark Maseko, National Information Officer, P: +260-211-225-494 | M: + 260-955767062 | E: masekom@un.org