Windhoek – The African Union (AU) has established the Africa Task Force for Novel Coronavirus (AFCOR) to coordinate preparedness and responses to the corona virus (Covid-19) across the continent.
The task force came up as a result of an emergency ministerial meeting of African health ministers on 22 February 2020 as part of continental initiatives to enhance capacity to rapidly detect, and respond to Covid-19 on the continent.
Convened by Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the AU’s technical agency on public health, in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO), the ministers discussed how to strengthen preparedness and response to the outbreak by member states.
Africa CDC is the AU’s specialised technical agency mandated to support member states strengthen their public health systems, including preparedness and response to disease outbreaks, has been supporting member states to assess preparedness levels through training and re-training of public health experts across the continent to update their knowledge and response capacities since the epidemic began.
Among other objectives, the ministers discussed on a continental strategy to better prepare and respond to any new cases of the virus on the continent; discussed the need for a common approach to receiving African students and citizens wishing to return from China; and shared knowledge and information about experimental drugs, vaccines and clinical trials currently being undertaken for the control of the coronavirus disease.
AFCOR is led by representatives of member states and has five priority areas: surveillance, infection prevention and control in healthcare facilities, clinical management of persons with severe corona virus-2019 infection, risk communication and community engagement, and laboratory diagnosis and subtyping.
The corona virus outbreak was first detected in January 2020 following the occurrence of cases from Wuhan, China. In addition to China, the disease has now been detected in 26 countries with 76 769 confirmed cases globally as of 21 February according to WHO.
A fortnight ago, Egypt reported the first confirmed case of the disease in Africa.
“I wish to commend the government of Egypt for the rapid detection of the case and placing the patient in treatment at an isolation centre before it could spread any further. I also wish to reiterate the full solidarity of the Union with the people and government of Egypt,” AU chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat said.
Mahamat said that, although Africa has reported only one case of corona virus, the continent is already feeling the impact of the disease economically and socially.
“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. If we do not take urgent actions the socio-economic effects will be very huge on Africa and the rest of the world,” he said.
In his address to the meeting, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, said: “Our biggest concern continues to be the potential for corona to spread in countries with weaker health systems. Our regional office for Africa, in partnership with the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, is working hard to prepare African countries for the potential spread of the virus to Africa. We are calling on all countries to invest urgently in preparedness.”
During the meeting, Africa CDC presented an update about the situation of corona virus to the ministers, including the latest information regarding science, diagnosis, and management. The ministers discussed and agreed on a joint continental strategy to better prepare and respond to the disease, including a common approach for monitoring and movement restrictions of people at risk for corona virus and for information sharing.
“From the onset of the outbreak, the African Union has continued to share information with member states through teleconferences by Africa CDC and through the Permanent Representative Committee and the Peace and Security Council of the African Union. We will continue to provide a platform for the exchange of information to improve health systems in Africa,” said AU’s commissioner for social affairs Amira Elfadil.