Coronavirus is fast gaining a footing in Africa with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) reporting its first COVID-19 case on Tuesday, making the number of affected countries in Africa to at least 11.
Minister of Health Eteni Longondo of the DRC confirmed on Tuesday the first positive case of coronavirus is a person of foreign nationality who came from Belgium and who was checked on his arrival on the territory. Besides the latest one reported in the DRC, there are 102 cases reported in 10 countries, with one death, according to the African Union (AU) Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) on Tuesday. So far the countries that have been affected in Africa include Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, DRC, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Togo, and Tunisia. Most of the cases in Africa involve foreigners or citizens returning from Europe. Although the number of those affected in most of the countries remains marginal, that the cases are rapidly rising is causing concern as governments step up measures to combat the virus.
The importation of the virus into the continent has seen some African governments take drastic measures to keep the virus out of their borders. These include banning international conferences and flights from countries that have the cases. On Monday, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari set up a coronavirus task force to help curb the spread of the virus in the country, which has reported two cases. ” This action is in preparation for a probable major outbreak of the disease in the country which will require a multi-sectoral inter-governmental approach as advised by WHO, similar to that adopted for the HIV epidemic in the last two decades,” he said in a statement. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, on the other hand, announced similar measures last week as the east African nation suspended flights from China and northern Italy, set up a quarantine facility and enhanced screening at border points.
In Rwanda, the government has erected sinks in public places including bus parks, asking all travelers to wash their hands before getting into the bus. “To prevent the risk of coronavirus outbreak, passengers at the Kigali Bus Park have to wash their hands before getting onto buses. Rwanda has recorded no case of the epidemic but the country has stepped up vigilance,” the government said in a tweet Monday. Steven Shongwe, the acting director of the non-communicable diseases (NCD) cluster at the WHO Regional Office for Africa, said for the region, all countries are at risk because there are more affected countries where people are traveling to and from the continent. “And we know that the potential of importing these cases is increasing by the day as we have more and more number of countries having established community transmission and local transmission,” he told Xinhua. Eric Mangunyi, a researcher at the Walter Sisulu University in South Africa and a consultant at Nairobi-based EM Pioneers, noted that Africa may be the worst hit by the disease if it escalates because of weak health systems. “The majority of the healthcare system in African countries is not robust enough to handle this crisis. In case the cases continue to spread, many of the countries will be in problem. It can be devastating,” he said. He noted that the disease would have serious long-term impacts on the economies of Africa, draining resources that would have been used in other sectors including education.
Speaking to the press on Tuesday at AU headquarters in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, the Africa CDC director, John Nkengasong, said the center has strengthened its internal capacity to support COVID-19 outbreak preparedness and response efforts by African countries.Africa CDC has distributed testing kits capable of testing over 10, 000 tests, and it is purchasing more emergency medical items, including thermal scanners and other critical medical supplies and stockpiling them to meet requests from AU member states.”We are shifting slowly from preparedness to response. The Africa Taskforce for Coronavirus Preparedness and Response (AFTCOR) is currently active and supporting response by member states. Forty-three African countries now have the capacity to test for the virus and we have supplied them with test kits together with the World Health Organization,” he said.