Mapping Africa

African countries were, on the whole, unprepared for the outbreak of COVID-19, despite many nations’ experience of combating epidemics of Ebola and measles, Robert Steffen, an emeritus professor of epidemiology at the University of Zurich and a frequent adviser to the World Health Organization (WHO), told Sputnik.

Steffen, who has previously served as the chairperson of the WHO’s International Health Regulations Emergency Committee on Ebola, said that health professionals in West African countries such as Sierra Leone and Liberia, who have worked to combat outbreaks of Ebola over recent years, were under continuous stress and had little time to come up with detailed pandemic plans.

“In these countries, we must be aware of the fact that they had civil war, and then they had the Ebola outbreaks, I’m speaking now mainly of Sierra Leone and Liberia, and actually the health professionals were under continuous stress and there are so few of them in these countries, that they didn’t, as it appears, have very much time to focus on pandemic planning,” Steffen said on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF).

The academic added that African countries, while adhering to WHO recommendations, were often acting in a reactive manner when it came to combating the COVID-19 pandemic.

Steffen also cited the example of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where frequent epidemics of Ebola and measles paralyzed the country’s health services.

“Also, if we take the example of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in these past three or four years, they had the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth outbreak of Ebola … additionally, they had an even larger measles epidemic, with more than 6,000 children dying of measles in the DRC, and so they were completely busy with these events and could not really plan very much for a coronavirus outbreak or then later pandemic,” Steffen remarked.

Since the start of the pandemic, more than 4.9 million positive tests for COVID-19 have been registered on the African continent, with 1.6 million of these reported in South Africa, according to data supplied by the World Health Organization’s Regional Office for Africa.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, more than 33,200 cases of the disease have been reported, leading to the deaths of 804 people. The WHO’s Regional Office for Africa has also registered 4,201 cases of the disease in Sierra Leone.

This year’s edition of SPIEF was held from June 2-5 in the Russian city of St. Petersburg. Rossiya Segodnya was an official media partner of the event.

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