Ready or not? Africa and the coronavirus

7 February, 2020

Extracts below from The New Humanitarian. Full text here:


Africa has so far escaped the spread of the coronavirus, which first appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan on 31 December, and has now gone on to infect more than 28,000 people and kill over 560 people, the vast majority in China.

That surge in cases is causing deep unease in countries like Kenya, which have strong commercial ties to China, but, like many other developing nations, have only limited health and surveillance systems...

At the moment, Kenyan hospitals would be unable to confirm whether someone has been infected as they do not have the “reagent kits” necessary to identify the coronavirus, officially designated 2019-nCoV.

An example of that dilemma was when a Kenyan student arrived on 28 January at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport from Wuhan on board a Kenya Airways flight displaying flu-like symptoms.

Suspecting the coronavirus, he was immediately quarantined in an isolation ward at Kenyatta National Hospital – setting off a social media-fuelled panic...

Twenty-four hours passed – no news. Then two days passed. Kenyans wondered online why test kits for other viruses could yield results in hours, while a single case from Kenya was taking days to confirm and needed to be flown to South Africa?

Only on the third day, 31 January, did Kariuki emerge with the news that the sample had tested negative for 2019-nCoV.

By then Kenyans’ dismay at the lack of transparency in the testing process had turned into a much larger question: if testing one single suspected case takes so long, what are the implications if the country suffers a major coronavirus outbreak?...


Best wishes, Neil

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: