AU Mobilizes Continent-Wide Response to COVID-19 Outbreak

ADDIS ABEBA – African Union is strengthening partnerships and coordination across Africa in a response to the 2019 novel coronavirus disease or COVID-19 outbreak.

“I would like to assure you of the firm resolve of the African Union Commission to establish the necessary synergy to maximize the impact of our actions to protect our continent from the ongoing coronavirus disease outbreak,” said Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of AU Commission.

The Chairperson said this during the emergency meeting of the African Union Ministers of Health on COVID-19 in Addis Ababa.

As of 20 February 2020, African countries reported that since 22 January, countries report that 210 people have been investigated for the virus in the WHO African region. 204 cases have been ruled out and six cases are still pending.

“This epidemic is a human tragedy and it’s already paralyzing economic activities. We are feeling the effects already, because China, one of Africa’s economic partners, is affected,” Mahamat said. “If we do not take urgent actions the socio-economic effects will be very huge on Africa and the rest of the world.”

On Jan 30, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom declared that the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) epidemic, centered in China, was a public health emergency of international concern.

His reasoning was that “a global coordinated effort is needed to enhance preparedness in other regions of the world”.

As cases continue to rise, and spread worldwide, governments and institutions are taking action to prepare for the first patients in Africa.

WHO has already conducted a survey with countries to assess their overall readiness for COVID-19 and found the regional readiness level was an estimated 66%.

“WHO finds there are critical gaps in readiness for countries across the continent,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s Regional Director for Africa.

“We need urgently to prioritize strengthening the capacities for countries to investigate alerts, treat patients in isolation facilities and improve infection, prevention and control in health facilities and in communities,” she added.

The UN health agency has played an active role in supporting countries to coordinate preparation efforts, and so far has deployed more than 40 experts to ten countries.

It has also assisted countries in building their diagnostic capacity for COVID-19, and currently, 26 laboratories are able to test for the new pathogen, up from just two early this month.

“The threats posed by COVID-19 has cast a spotlight on the shortcomings in health systems in the African Region,” said Dr. Moeti. “Countries must invest in emergency preparedness. This investment is worthwhile when you consider the cost of responding to outbreaks, which for the 2014 Ebola outbreak was estimated at close to $US 3 billion. “

Preparedness efforts which countries already have in place are paying off.
For instance, investments in Ebola preparedness for the nine neighboring countries to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, have yielded some dividends in relation to COVID-19.

Most of these countries now have partner coordination structures in place, points-of-entry screening has been strengthened (particularly at major airports) and isolation units have been upgraded to manage suspected cases.