African nations warned against prematurely ending lockdowns

THE Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) has warned countries against prematurely ending Covid-19 lockdowns without strategies to guard against infections spiraling out of control, saying the pandemic is still unfolding on the continent.

BRIDGET MANANAVIRE

Africa CDC will soon launch a document to guide countries on how they can systematically open up their economies.The deadly disease, which Africa CDC says is still unfolding, had by Wednesday this week killed 3 592 people on the continent from 119 454 cases.

“We are going to be issuing out a guidance document on how countries can systematically and strategically open up. The document has been approved by member states and we will be launching it soon. We want to avoid a situation where infections will be out of control, and therefore we want to make sure member states do it with strategies to stop this,” Raji Tajudeen, the head of public health and research at Africa CDC, said.

Zimbabwe is among countries in the region that have begun opening up despite proof of incapacity to effectively deal with the pandemic.The country has missed its testing targets. Health experts believe the authorities are in the dark on the real extent of infection in the country.

The Health and Child Care ministry on Wednesday reported 69 new cases, pushing the number of confirmed cases to 132 from 15 950 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests and 22 402 rapid screening tests.

Tajudeen said Africa CDC is scaling up its support for Zimbabwe and other members to strengthen Covid-19 testing, tracing and treatment systems.

“The pandemic is still unfolding and as Africa we need to scale up testing, and that is why we are working to ensure that countries have as many test kits as possible. We are over 1,5 million tests on the continent and want that to rise to 10 million. And there should be treatments and tracing,” he said.

“In Zimbabwe, part of the contribution CDC made is in human resource support and this also goes to other member states. We sent epidemiologists and we will also be supporting health workers as we drive partnerships in accelerating Covid-19 response in Africa. The partnerships are in testing, contact tracing, and offering support to those who would have tested positive and get them treatment.”

Tajudeen said the kind of intervention also depended on particular requests by countries and the availability of resources.

“We have been conducting in infection prevention and control online and in-country training and in Zimbabwe these were held in Bulawayo. CDC in partnership with (Chinese billionaire) Jack Ma has been providing protective clothing and tests kits. And Zimbabwe should be receiving its third round of the supplies this week or has just received them; some countries got their supplies over the weekend,” Tajudeen said.

“We are also making use of the online platform to strengthen lab testing through training of personnel. We are in direct communication with health departments in countries and so we are able to give direct support to countries.”

Health minister Obadiah Moyo this week told state media that the interruptions in testing have been partly attributed to global shortages of reagents, adding the country received its consignment of supplies last Friday.

“We now have the swabs and reagents after receiving the third donation from the Jack Ma Foundation last Friday. We also got a donation of additional cartridges for GeneXpert machines. In addition to that, we also bought reagents and swabs from France and we are hoping testing will improve from what it was in recent weeks,” he was quoted in the report.

According to ministry of health sources, the consignment included more than 6 000 laboratory test kits, 1 200 medical N95 masks, 6 000 civilian masks, 45 000 surgical masks, 12 000 gloves, over 2 000 face shields, 2 300 protective clothing and a PAP ventilator.

Community Working Group on Health executive director Itai Rusike said more must be done before the country is opened up.

“We have challenges of people running away from those quarantine centres because of government failure to test those people. Some are being asked to look for ways to get tested. And when they run away they risk infecting their communities and families. We need to address the issue of testing, accommodation and food,” Rusike said.

“We need to address the issue of porous borders, because now people are using undesignated entry points trying to avoid the centres. And some are being smuggled back. We can’t tell the extent of the problem if we are not doing enough tests.

“There is no lockdown to talk of right now; people are acting as if the lockdown is over. We need to continuously educate people. It should be the individual’s responsibility to protect oneself and community. Communities need to be educated to be aware of the dangers. The police and security at the roadblocks need to come to the party, because they are many things that are happening there for people to pass.”

Rusike said the transport challenges resulting from Zupco’s limited capacity to ferry commuters has created a headache as people are jostling to get into the few available buses.

“You can’t have an indefinite lockdown in a Zimbabwean context. He (President Emmerson Mnangagwa) should have given it a clear timeframe which can have a buy in from the people,” he said.