How Africa can prevent spread of coronavirus

Thursday February 27 2020

A health officer screens travellers arriving from China for symptoms of coronavirus at Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salaam earlier this month. PHOTO | FILE

Dar es Salaam. Researchers have classified Tanzania among African countries that might be ill-prepared to detect imported cases of coronavirus and prevent its further transmission, suggesting that such countries must mobilize more resources, intensify surveillance and urgently prioritise capacity building among its experts to curb an impending outbreak.

Findings of a study which the researchers published in the Lancet Journal five days ago reveals that in Africa, countries with the highest risk of importing the virus are Egypt, Algeria, and South Africa but have moderate to high capacity to respond to outbreaks.

However, Tanzania, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sudan, Angola, Ghana, and Kenya are at moderate risk but have variable capacity and high vulnerability, said the study which is highlighting the ability of the continent to deal with the coronavirus (COVID-19).

A case of coronavirus was yesterday confirmed in Algeria; that country that was put on the highest risk when the study was published five days ago. World Health Organization (WHO) said health authorities in Algeria reported tests which indicated that an Italian adult, who arrived in the country on 17 February 2020 tested positive for the coronavirus disease. This is the second confirmed case of the viral disease in Africa after Egypt reported a case early this month.

The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, “The window of opportunity the continent has had to prepare for coronavirus disease is closing. All countries must ramp up their preparedness activities.”

In Tanzania, where no case of the virus has been reported, the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children said it had intensified surveillance at ports of entry, such as main airports where screening is being carried out.


But business activities have been disrupted in the country’s main city market Kariakoo where businessmen were used to trading with China.

Ms Bertha Mushi who was used to importing new products from China every after two weeks can only afford to do so only once in a month.

“Business has become tough these days,” she told The Citizen.

But Ms Zainabu Katala says she could travel to Thailand and Turkey for business deals which she can no longer carry out because of heightened vigilance over the transmission of coronavirus and travel restrictions.

“These reports on the outbreak in other countries apart from China are disturbing,’’ she said.

The bilateral trade volumes between Tanzania and China stood at $3.976 billion as of 2018, according to figures from the Chinese Embassy in Dar es Salaam.

Trade volume between the two countries registered a year-on-year growth of 15 percent, with China being the largest trading partner of Tanzania for three consecutive years.

The Lancet study, which suggested ways to avoid importing cases of the virus, has identified three clusters of countries that share the same exposure to the risk originating from the provinces of Guangdong, Fujian, and the city of Beijing.

The virus continues to spread in China and cases have been reported in more than 25 countries. Africa was spared for a long time until Egypt reported the first case. So far more than 80,000 people have been infected globally, killing at least 2,700, according to WHO updates.

Algeria is one of 13 countries, which the WHO has identified as a top priority for preparedness measures due to their direct links or high volume of travel to China.

This happens at a time not many countries in Africa can detect the virus in the laboratory. But in the past one week, a number of laboratories able to test samples of the virus on the continent has tripled, with Ghana, Madagascar, Nigeria and Sierra Leone joining the list that previously only included Senegal and South Africa.