Africa Trying To Fight COVID-19 But Response Measures Vary Across Continent - Health Chief

MOSCOW (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 10th April, 2020) African countries are taking steps to prevent the rampant spread of COVID-19 on the continent by boosting the production of critical health care supplies and expanding access to clean water, but response measures to the outbreak have varied across the continent and countries do not have the means to conduct mass testing, the executive Director of the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC), Catherine Kyobutungi, told Sputnik.

Since the start of the outbreak, African countries have attempted to apply contact tracing and social distancing measures, such as mandatory self-isolation for travelers from high-risk countries and limitations on movement, Kyobutungi said. The APHRC chief also stated that countries have stepped up public education on COVID-19's transmission and boosted health care system preparedness, local access to clean water, and production of hand soap and hand sanitizer.

"The sequencing of these measures has not been the same in all countries," she noted.

African countries began taking measures in late January to prepare for the eventual arrival of COVID-19, the APHRC chief noted.

"The continent's response preceded the reporting of cases by many months ... Countries had already established national task forces and activated their disease surveillance systems. This means that countries were already in response mode when the first cases were reported and were not caught flat-footed as has been seen in the worst-hit countries in the north," Kyobutungi stated.

She also recognized the role of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as the World Health Organization (WHO) in helping raise preparedness levels on the continent.

"The Africa CDC and WHO have also been instrumental in developing tools that countries can use to make choices on the most suitable interventions based on the stage of the outbreak in each country," Kyobutungi remarked.

However, despite Africa's preparedness for the outbreak, the continent is still suffering from a shortage of test kits to identify COVID-19, meaning that testing is currently concentrated on those who are believed to be carrying the disease.

"For now, countries are not doing mass testing, though testing capacity is increasing by the day. In the absence of adequate test kits and reagents for PCR [polymerase chain reaction], and rapid tests, African countries have been forced to limit testing to people with a high index of suspicion," the APHRC chief stated.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa since the start of the outbreak surpassed 10,000 on Tuesday, WHO confirmed. The disease has spread to 52 countries on the continent, resulting in more than 500 deaths. International organizations, such as WHO, have expressed concern at the potential for the disease to spread rapidly in Africa and urged for tougher social distancing measures to be enforced.