COVID-19 In Africa: What can We learn from the EBOLA outbreak and Containment?

COVID-19 In Africa: What can We learn from the EBOLA outbreak and Containment?


By Danielle Munang



The rise of Covid-19 comes as an outbreak of another deadly virus at the backdrop of other deadly virus which have plagued the continent like Ebola.  This Ebola virus appears to be ending in Central Africa's Democratic Republic of Congo.

Africa’s experience dealing with multiple outbreaks of Ebola offers some lessons that could be helpful in addressing Covid-19. Some of these are more specific to the African context, but most apply anywhere else in the globe.

 

Image Courtesy: European Commission DG ECHO (www.flickr.com/photos/69583224@N05/13717624625/in/photoli...), Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0
Ebola Health Workers in Liberia
Image Courtesy: European Commission DG ECHO 

Protect Health Care Workers: As the race to content the COVID-19 virus increase this should be a priority. In the western world people seem to be forgetting this important step. This Coronavirus is overwhelming the healthcare system in in north America mostly the United States. Unfortunately, in Africa during the Ebola outbreak so many determined doctors, nurses and others got infected with Ebola from the patients they were trying to save. Health care workers were more likely to contract Ebola than the general population in the west and central Africa regions.

With this epidemic COVID-19, health care workers will face similar risks at work and will likely be required in many cases to continue treating patients without a lot of protective measures. Many sub- Saharan African health systems are already in a pickle because they are not enough doctors and nurses to meet the basic health needs of the population. We must protect this workforce in order to keep health systems from collapse. Health care facilities need to be equipped and supplied, and the health workers must be trained in how to prevent the spread of infection within facilities, both from patient to patient and from patient to health care worker.

Image Courtesy: European Commission DG ECHO (www.flickr.com/photos/69583224@N05/13717624625/in/photoli...), Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0
Community members celebrating 
Image Courtesy: European Commission DG ECHO 
 

Engage The Local Community:  Some of Africa's best and most effective outreach during the Ebola outbreak in the DRC was done through trusted members of the community. By training and equipping them to keep their neighbors informed and reassured, community cooperation will increase and will facilitate efforts to detect the virus and encourage individual and family responses that will slow its spread.

Use Faith-Based Networks! Faith leaders are often among the most trusted members of a community and enlisting them in providing accurate information and encouraging cooperation among members of their congregations is extremely effective. In chronically under-resourced African nations, faith-based institutions provide services, including health care, where governments sometimes can't reach.

Testing Time:   That capacity has since ramped up considerably, but it is still short of the mark, as shortages of testing kits and laboratory supplies are common. We must expand the capacity to test to every national and regional reference lab on the continent as soon as possible and provide the supplies needed to test in accordance with WHO guidelines. Covid-19 poses a particularly dire threat to sub-Saharan Africa, given its generally weak health systems -- and too many people already suffering the effects of living in extreme poverty. And in urban slums in cities like Lagos, Nigeria, where people are crowded into cramped housing and pack into minibus taxis to travel to work, they can't afford to miss, social distancing is all but impossible.

What we can do now from EBOLA lessons

The African continent can draw from significant experience dealing with epidemics like Ebola. The continent is currently waging battles against epidemics of measles and cholera, just to name a few. And the lessons learned in controlling and containing viruses such as Ebola can inform the fight against this novel coronavirus. The race against time is real and anything we can do to keep the COVID-19 virus at bay should be done now and not tomorrow.

Danielle Afumbom Munang is a grade 6 class of Saint Marguerite D'Youville Catholic School, London, Ontario, Canada. She is also Talk Show host of Youth and Environment.

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