Monday, March 23, 2020

Africa Looks Eastward for COVID-19 Solution
By Joyce Chimbi
Global Times
2020/3/23 22:33:40

Senior officials from Zimbabwe's Ministry of Health and Harare City Council participate in the China-Africa Video Conference on COVID-19 in Harare, Zimbabwe, March 18, 2020. Photo: Xinhua

As the coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 disease, rapidly spreads around the world, Africa isn't watching the pandemic unfold from the sidelines.

As of Sunday, Africa had recorded more than 700 confirmed COVID-19 cases in 43 of Africa's 54 countries.

While the continent has recorded surprisingly fewer COVID-19 cases, it has some of the weakest healthcare structures and an epidemic of this magnitude could hit Africa extremely hard.

There is palpable panic across Africa, including in Kenya, East Africa's economic powerhouse. Two days after the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, the reality of this health threat began to hit closer to home in many African countries.

China was at the time of WHO declaration fighting an intense battle to contain a virus that still threatens to bring the world to its knees.

After weeks of staging a highly aggressive campaign to contain the virus, China has taken the lead in effectively and efficiently showing the world that this global health crisis can be overcome.

Africa is hanging onto this hope and is looking to its partner of the East for a solution. True to the spirit of China-Africa cooperation, on March 18 China hosted the first China-Africa video conference and the only item on the agenda was COVID-19. That was also the day, Central China's Hubei Province reported zero new suspected case of COVID-19 for two consecutive days.

Nearly 300 health officials and experts from at least 24 African countries along with the African Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (Africa CDC) participated in the video conference with China.

China is well aware that the continent is poorly equipped, resource strapped and would benefit from a proven and tested strategy to address this novel health crisis.

To contain COVID-19, China strengthened its diagnosis, monitoring and reporting systems. Africa appears to be tailoring its strategy to combat the virus along these lines.

A day after the China-Africa video conference, Kenya, a very close partner of China, announced that it was scaling up mass testing and that more people will be tested in key parts of the country.

Kenya has also agreed to a request by the African Union to host Africa CDC in a 21-storey office building and that will be constructed by China.

China has remained a close friend of the African continent especially over the last decade. In the thick of this pandemic, and within the context of a health system not built to withstand a viral onslaught, there are lessons to be learned by looking Eastward.

When China built hospitals targeting the virus in a matter of days, African countries have followed by transforming some of its hospitals' infrastructure into isolation units.

China has already provided the first batch of testing kits to the African Union (AU), and plans are underway to provide medical supplies to further strengthen response.

Like China, Africa seeks to swiftly and effectively cut the transmission cycle and has embarked on an aggressive campaign to promote personal and community hygiene, and improving coronavirus screening at border points.

The continent has shifted gears and is now in full response mode as the WHO continues to express concerns that COVID-19 may have gone undetected and therefore unreported across the continent.

As containing the virus remains Africa's best strategy to combat the spread of COVID-19, China is committed to sharing its experience in battling the virus and Africa is eager to learn, and to implement best lessons from its Eastern partner.

To this end, the mission of China to the AU is currently providing extensive coronavirus prevention and control support to several critical organs of the AU.

At the top of the agenda is ensuring that information disseminated and consumed by communities around this global pandemic is accurate and reassuring to avoid undue panic and the proliferation of myths and misconceptions.

Embassies of China in African countries are working closely with key players in governments to encourage millions of Chinese citizens across the continent, to cooperate with local authorities in prevention and control efforts.

The biggest lesson coming from China is that each and every citizen has a role to play, and that the fight against this pandemic is not solely a government affair, and ordinary citizens have joined this fight.

The author is a Kenya-based journalist.

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