By TOM CHIAHEMEN, Abuja –
Stakeholders drawn from countries and institutions across Africa are meeting in Abuja for a simulation exercise meant to strengthen regional preparedness and readiness capacities to Covid-19 epidemic in West Africa.
The two-day event, being held at the Barcelona Hotel in Nigeria’s capital, is organized by the West African Health Organisation’s Regional Centre for Surveillance and Disease Control (WAHO-RCSDC) under the sponsorship of Africa Centre for Disease Control (Africa CDC) and AFENET Africa.
The overall objective of the simulation exercise is to strengthen preparedness and readiness capacities for an adequate regional rapid response to Covid-19 outbreak.
Specifically, the Simulation exercise objectives are to: · Test operational capacities of ERRRT to adequately respond in case the Covid-19 outbreak in case of immediate deployment; · Identify gaps and urgent measures to be taken in case of immediate deployment of the ECOWAS Regional Rapid response Team, following a request of an ECOWAS Member States; · Increase operational skills of ECOWAS Regional Rapid Response Team members in timely and effective manner in order to respond to Covid-19 outbreak and; · Strengthen the collaboration between Africa CDC and ECOWAS Regional Center for Surveillance and Disease Control as the Regional Collaborating Center to combat major public health events in West Africa.
It would be recalled that on December 31st, 2019, the China’s World Helth Organisation (WHO) Country Office was informed of cases of pneumonia of unknown etiology in the city of Wuhan, Hubei Province in China. Initial investigations established an epidemiological link of cases to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market where there were also sales of live animals.
On January 7th, 2020, a new coronavirus (Covid-19) was identified as the causal agent. Genome sequencing of the Covid-19 was rapidly performed by Chinese scientists, and the genetic sequence of the Covid-19 became available to the WHO on 12 Jan 2020 which facilitated laboratories in different countries to produce specific diagnostic PCR tests for detecting the novel infection.
Phylogenetic analysis showed that the Covid-19 is a β-Coronavirus of group 2B with at least 70% similarity in genetic sequence to SARS-CoV and has been named Covid-19 by the WHO.
The virus has rapidly spread to other Chinese provinces. During January, More than 24 countries including Thailand, Japan, South Korea, USA, France, Australia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Macau, Nepal, and Vietnam reported also confirmed cases of Covid-19.
The WHO declared on 31st January Covid-19 as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). As of February 20th, 75748 cases (99% of cases in China) were confirmed to be positive ofCovid-19 and 2121 deaths have been reported globally.
It is against the backdrop of the human-to-human transmission associated to the rapid spread in a global context that it became urgent for each region and country to put in place preparedness and readiness mechanisms in order to appropriately respond to possible cases of Covid-19.
It was also in this context that WAHO, through the RCSDC proposed in the framework of the Regional Collaborating Center of Africa CDC to organize a simulation exercise (training and simulation exercise) to test the preparedness and readiness of the ECOWAS Regional Rapid Response Team for preventing, detecting and responding to the new coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak.
The event in Abuja is also envisaged to review and engage the ECOWAS regional rapid response team to be ready to support ECOWAS Member States in strengthening response to Covid-19 outbreak, just as the SIMEX is expected to provide a unique opportunity for partners and countries representatives to discuss and enhance strategies for improving coordination, communication and collaboration in the event of the Covid-19 epidemic in West Africa
Speaking to journalists on the sidelines of the opening ceremony, the Regional Technical Coordinator, African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET), Dr Patrick Nguku, said that West Africa was intensifying preparations toward handling the Novel Coronavirus epidemic in the sub-region.
Nguku, who is also a Senior Resident Advisor, Nigeria Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Programmes, confirmed that the overall objective of the simulation exercise was to strengthen preparedness and readiness capacities for an adequate regional rapid response to Covid-19 outbreak, adding that AFENET was working with existing health structures to avoid duplicating efforts.
“We provide a database of well-trained epidemiologists. The AFENET Corps of Disease Detectives (ACoDD) by design is there to be deployed by regional bodies, and not just by AFENET.
“ACoDD was significantly utilised during the Ebola and Yellow Fever outbreaks and it is being utilised for the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Some members of ACoDD have already been deployed to Lagos State, Nigeria,” he disclosed.
Nguku said that West Africa has continued to provide technical guidance and tools among themselves.
He said that the member states had stepped up proactive measures in a bid to ensure the best chance of containing a possible outbreak.
He, however, emphasised the urgency of the current situation regarding Covid19 which necessitated the convening of the meeting to agree on strategies for protecting the population of the region.
“The simulation exercise is to test operational capacities of ERRRT to adequately respond in case of Covid-19 outbreak.
“It is also to identify gaps and urgent measures to be taken in case of immediate deployment of the ECOWAS Regional Rapid Response Team, following a request from ECOWAS Member States.
“Following our presentation on the global situation, the processes currently in place in the regional and laboratory preparedness, we will continue to strengthen coordination, communication and collaboration across member states.
“Our preparedness for Covid-19 epidemic, including cross-border collaboration, will include enhanced surveillance and management measures for Covid-19, particularly at entry points – air, land and sea.
“We have also stepped up communication to ensure that the member states receives accurate, appropriate and timely information regarding the epidemic,” he added.
Senior Technical Advisor, Deutsche Gesellschaft Fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), Dr. Giampiero Baldassarri, said that the epidemic in China was coming under control with steady reduction of daily incidence.
“But the epidemic outside China is expanding in number of daily incident cases and number of countries reporting cases, in spite of containment measures.
“This is not a task for experts alone. We all are involved and should be united in fighting this outbreak that can be defeated and we have continued to do so much to be prepared for the outbreak,” he said.
Baldassarri said it was a call for all and the virus was no longer a threat but a reality.
“Let me add that it is not the time for fear, but solidarity, cooperation and collective commitment from all,” he said.
He urged governments of member states to take the necessary steps to ensure rapid detection and response.
He added that they should continue to emphasise and support focus on readiness for containment, but more also on the ability to respond to cases.
Also speaking, the Technical Officer, Africa CDC, Dr. Denis Bunyoga, said that countries in Africa were detecting with rapid testing and containment of COVID19 because systems were working.
Bunyoga said that the Africa CDC strategy of building targeted capacity and providing tools were effective.
He said that the Africa CDC strategy was enhanced surveillance, rapid detection and containment.