As governments across the globe contend with the ongoing devastation of the novel coronavirus and look for lessons to tackle future pandemics, African countries’ experience with infectious diseases, including coronavirus, Ebola and monkeypox, offer key lessons, a new report has said.
Titled “Epidemics that didn’t happen” and developed by Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies, a global health organization headquartered in New York, the report said through careful planning and swift strategic actions, African leadership helped lessen the impact of the pandemics.
“These ‘epidemics that didn’t happen’ show us how the trajectory of an epidemic can be fundamentally altered when a country invests in and prioritizes preparedness for infectious disease outbreaks and readiness to act when it strikes,” the report, released on Wednesday,said.
According to the report, quick action by the government, supported by effective public communication, has produced impressive results and saved many lives.
Generally, the report said through commitment to collaboration over competition, swift action from Africa CDC and political coordination led by the African Union, Africa was able to galvanize a continent-wide response to coronavirus, dramatically expanding public health capacity and saving countless lives.
The report said lessons learned from past epidemics, such as Ebola, made possible a swift and coordinated response to coronavirus.
“When the virus arrived on the continent, Africa CDC had already established regional coordinating centers, increased lab capacity and unified surveillance networks,” the report said.
The report highlighted how Uganda prevented the spread of Ebola after it found its way into the country in January 2019 from the north Kivu and Ituri provinces in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Days after Ebola outbreak was declared in DR Congo,Uganda activated its national emergency preparedness and response systems.
The east African country opened multiple Ebola treatment centers and rapid testing laboratories near the DR Congo border.
Additionally, by November 2018, the Ugandan government had vaccinated nearly 5,000 health care workers and response staff before any cases had been identified in the country.
A case of a boy who had returned to Uganda from DR Congo was thus quickly identified at Mpondwe border crossing in January 2019, and about 300 contacts of the case were vaccinated. The outbreak was declared over on July 25 after failure to identify further infections.
“Quick activation of Uganda’s health emergency response systems, long before Ebola cases in DR Congo threatened an outbreak in Uganda, prevented any further infections,” the report said.
Another case study was also how Kenya controlled a deadly anthrax outbreak in Narok county in 2019,through a community-centered approach.
A community member reported a young herder and two students had fallen sick after eating meat from a dead cow. The three were diagnosed with anthraxat the nearest health facility.
A volunteer, who had received training from the Kenya Red Cross Society’s Community-Based Surveillance system, took immediate action, sending an SMS alert to the system.
The alert was received by a supervisor who notified the local health and veterinary authorities, triggering action through the government’s national surveillance system.
Within days, the county vaccinated 10,600 cattle and 14,000 sheep in the vicinity.To gain the trust and participation of local farmers, the government and Red Cross immediately convened a traditional community dialogue session.
Teachers were shown how to screen potentially infected children and report any incidence of illnesses to public health officers or area volunteers.
Wider health information and awareness was also conducted through radio broadcasts, school activities, household visits and community group education sessions.
Just over a month after the incident, the situation was brought under control after five human cases, including one death.
The report also highlighted how Nigeria was able to fight an outbreak of monkeypox in Akwa Ibom state in 2019 through years of preparation.
Another case study was Senegal’s remarkable control of the spread of coronavirus.
When coronavirus arrived in Senegal from travelers returning from Europe, the country was ready with a plan, having spent years running simulations to prepare for just such an outbreak.
The response in Senegal was so effective it was ranked second out of 36 countries evaluated by Foreign Policy magazine. When the state of emergency was lifted in late June 2020, it didn’t lead to an immediate spike in cases as other countries have seen.