The situation with COVID19 is changing daily, and there are conflicting reports on what steps should be taken to avoid being exposed. What do development organisations need to take into account when planning partnership activities over the next few months?
Dr Kathrin Thomas, GP, Public Health Doctor and Chair of the Wales for Africa Health Links Network answers some of your most pressing questions about the outbreak here.
Will it reach some African countries?
Yes, it will. Nigeria and Senegal have reported 3 cases to date. The World Health Organisation AFRO office has said that “..fragile health systems and links between China and the African continent mean that the threat posed by this new virus is considerable”. Most countries do not have the capacity to do surveillance (testing of at-risk people), so there may well be circulating virus already that hasn’t been picked up.
How long will it last?
This is the first big wave, which is spreading globally, and there seems to be a 2-3 months curve in each epidemic area where the virus peaks. So, it depends on when it starts widely circulating in the community and how effective that community is in slowing the spread through public health measures (and ‘flattening’ the curve).
What impact might it have in Africa?
There are some mitigating factors: many people still live in remote rural areas where spread will be slower. There is less mass travel between countries and isolating outbreaks may be easier. There is some evidence that the virus may not spread so well in hotter climates. However, containment and slowing spread through public health measures will be very challenging with far fewer health workers, and particularly in areas where there is distrust of government and authorities. Access to soap and water is a challenge in some areas, even for some hospitals. Help from the international community will be very limited, because it will be focussed in the richer countries. Most African countries do not have the capacity to treat large numbers needing critical care or to protect all health workers with PPE.
Should we cancel or delay trips?
This is now arguably a pandemic, although not officially named so by WHO at the time of publication. Once it is, authorities can use greater powers for controlling infection. This might affect advice for all international travel. However, travel restrictions are likely to be few as they are not very effective and have large economic impacts. Temperature screening isn’t very effective in preventing spread. So, if you have already booked a trip, check with your insurance what happens if you choose to cancel, as it won’t cover you if you are just “disinclined to travel”. If you haven’t already booked, consider delaying booking until it’s clearer what the epidemic is like in your partner country. Your partners may be too busy (e.g. health links) or you would feel too anxious to be away from home, or you are at higher risk yourself
What could we do differently?
This is the time to be imaginative and use technology: communication through WhatsApp or similar, trying distance conferencing (try www.zoom.us ) and distance learning methods. Please do share anything that you find is working by tagging @HubCymruAfrica on social media.
You might find that your partners have different needs and priorities during this time, and you might need to change plans for your activities anyway. You may want to consider fundraising instead of travel, for example.
Where can I get information from?
World Health Organisation global COVID19 pages here with some excellent resources
Hub Cymru Africa celebrates volunteering success on International Volunteer Day 2019