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Zambia on Coronavirus high alert

[By Stanslous Ngosa]

AS the coronavirus continues to claim hundreds of lives in China and affecting 20 other countries, the deadly disease poses a threat to Africa because of weak health systems and the high volume of travels to and from the Asian country.

Although the continent has not recorded any confirmed case of the virus, which has claimed over 500 lives in two months in China, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has placed Zambia together with countries among the 13 top high-risk African countries due to direct links and the high volume of travels to and from China. These are Ghana, Algeria, Angola, Ivory Coast, D R Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Kenya, Mauritius, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda.

For these countries where health care capacity is limited, early detection of any outbreak is critical. And with fears that the outbreak of the coronavirus may be difficult to contain as health care systems are already overburdened with cases of Ebola, malaria, HIV, diarrhoea and other deadly infectious diseases, prevention is key.

There are growing calls to prevent the Coronavirus, which was first recorded last December in Wuhan in the Chinese province of Hubei and is said to have spread to other parts of that country; including other countries with 28, 000 cases in about 20 countries as at February 4, according to the African Centre of Strategic Countries. Despite the quick spread of the 2019 novel Coronavirus and Zambia, by press time, had not recorded a case.

Government has heightened surveillance at points of entry and would continue to monitor the situation as it progresses in affected countries. Government is working with its partners to enhance the country’s preparedness to handle any coronavirus case, should it arise.

According to BBC news, Africa is the last continent to have received alerts on suspected cases on the deadly disease which has so far claimed 170 lives and infected 7, 711 people as confirmed by Chinese health authorities on the Wednesday, January 29, 2020 count.

It is further reported that alert screeners at airports in Ethiopia, Kenya and Ivory Coast have already reported suspected cases and the patients who were travelling from China have been quarantined and put under observation. According to the US government’s Center for Disease prevention and Control (CDC), the problem with the Coronavirus is the long incubation period.

Coronavirus symptoms could appear anywhere between two to 14 days after exposure. Africa records a total of eight flights landing from China everyday which poses a threat of spreading the virus. The fight against this global threat whose antidote is yet to be found calls for concerted efforts, especially in African regions where borders are porous and people easily move between borders for business and travel.

Zambia is no exception as locals travel near and far in search of livelihoods, and China has been one of their destinations. Also, a good number of Chinese frequent Zambia in search of business opportunities.
Everyone is at risk of getting infected with the Coronavirus, as it is getting transmitted from human to human.

Health workers at the point of entry have been oriented on how to detect and handle the Coronavirus. All the people coming from the affected countries are being screened with a thermal scanner, which was used in detecting the Ebola virus because even in Coronavirus there is fever.

Government has secured a place where suspected Coronavirus patients will be quarantined.
The move has been taken as a way of preparing in an event that the virus is detected in Zambia.

Tubalange Mini Hospital in Chilanga District has been identified as an isolation Centre for the treatment of any suspected case of Coronavirus as it is away from the town centre. About eight Rapid Response Teams have been trained to respond to any emergency that may arise due to the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, government may consider evacuating Zambian Students in China in view of the coronavirus outbreak. This will be subject to expert advice and also based on the World Health Organisation Status reports on the matter.

Some of the measures put in place to help students in China includes procuring and distribution of masks, food and other supplies,

Further, government is in close engagement with the CDC and the Zambian Embassy in China to ensure safety of ordinary Zambians and students, as well as the Chinese in Zambia. Other robust interventions government has put in place include heightened surveillance, community engagement and sensitization; creation of isolation facilities and pre-positioning of adequate supplies and personnel.

Government’s response is being coordinated by a high level inter-sectoral committee of permanent secretaries chaired by the Secretary to Cabinet.

The author is head of media relations at the Ministry of Health.

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