Covid-19: Kenya among 19 African countries on WHO watch list

Bungoma medics wear PPE

Members of the Bungoma County Isolation Team put on personal protection equipment (PPE) before burying the body of Dr Doreen Lugaliki, the first Kenyan doctor to die of Covid-19, in Ndalu, western Kenya, on July 13, 2020.

Photo credit: Brian Ongoro | AFP

What you need to know:

  • The other countries of concern are Kenya, Ghana, Angola, Algeria, Nigeria, South Africa, Benin, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, DR Congo, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, Liberia, Namibia, Cameroon, Senegal and Togo.
  • Dr Moeti said that in most of the affected African countries, new cases have arisen especially from workplaces and family gatherings.

Kenya is among 19 countries whose increasing Covid-19 cases over the last 28 days have left the World Health Organisation (WHO) concerned.

The disease has infected more than two million people in Africa and killed at least 31,800.

In the 47 countries of the WHO African Region, more than 1.4 million cases have been reported.

The other countries of concern are Kenya, Ghana, Angola, Algeria, Nigeria, South Africa, Benin, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, DR Congo, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, Liberia, Namibia, Cameroon, Senegal and Togo.

The WHO has warned that the number of infections could rise further as people travel upcountry for end-of-year festivities.

"We are nearing the time of year when people travel to spend holidays together. These end-year get-togethers are a key part of African life but they can increase the risk of Covid-19 transmission,” WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said in a statement on Thursday.

“Greater mobility and large gatherings can lead to new clusters of cases in parts of Africa that might previously have been spared.

Social gatherings

Dr Moeti said that in most of the affected African countries, new cases have arisen especially from workplaces and family gatherings.

"People are letting their guard down among colleagues and loved ones and it is hard not to, when physical distancing measures have kept us apart for so long. The upcoming holiday season may exacerbate this situation," she warned.

She observed that outbreaks spread socially but “we can stop them with safe social interactions”.

“I ask everyone to be mindful of risks - meet outdoors where possible, avoid mass gatherings, continue physical distancing, practising frequent hand hygiene and wearing a mask, particularly around older people and those with diabetes or hypertension,” she said.

She added: "Wearing masks can save lives. This is why WHO has launched the "Mask Up, Not Down" campaign which aims to reach over 40 million young people in Africa on social media by the end of 2020."

Dr Moeti reiterated that sustained and scaled-up public health measures, including testing and using kits to find cases quickly and stop chains of transmission, remain important.

Regarding a vaccine, Dr Moeti said the WHO welcomed the promising news, with initial data from phase three trials for two Covid-19 vaccines indicating high levels of efficacy.

"We are now working with African countries on preparedness to roll out the vaccines as we await the final results of the clinical trials."

Ebola in DRC

Dr Moeti also spoke about the Ebola disease in the DR Congo, saying that while fighting Covid-19, WHO supported the country in the fight against its eleventh outbreak.

"On Wednesday, the government declared it over. This is a big achievement as it took place over a huge and often inaccessible terrain.”

She attributed the success to innovations such as technologies to keep vaccines at super-cold temperatures, saying this will also be helpful with the Covid-19 vaccine.

"I commend and congratulate communities, frontline health workers, authorities and partners who worked together to contain this outbreak. Through collective action and using public health tools like active case finding and contact tracing, we can bring an end to outbreaks," she said.

Vaccine challenges

As clinical trials enter their final phases in the US, new problems have come to light over creating a system for the preservation of vaccines.

According to experts, managing the vaccines in extremely low temperatures of minus 70 degrees Celsius is likely to present the biggest hurdle.

Once the vaccine is approved, it must be handled differently from traditional ones.

Many African countries expect mass immunisation but don’t have the capacity to store the vaccines, especially in rural areas where there is no electricity supply.

The demand for ultra-low temperature freezers for medical use is increasing around the world in anticipation of the practical use of the vaccines.

fmureithi@ke.nationmedia.com

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