Egypt, South Africa and
Nigeria have confirmed the
presence of case of the new
coronavirus – heralding its
entry into Africa, a continent with
increasingly close ties to China
where the virus originated.
The World Health Organization
(WHO) has already declared the
coronavirus outbreak a global health
emergency – largely because of fears
that poorer countries may not be
able to cope with an outbreak.
“The main reason for this decla-
ration is not what is happening in
China but what is happening in oth-
er countries. Our greatest concern is
the potential for the virus to spread
to countries with weaker health
systems,” said WHO chief Tedros
Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who is from
The health systems in many Afri-
can countries are already struggling
with the existing workload, so can
they deal with another outbreak of a
highly infectious disease?
Michael Yao, WHO’s head of
emergency operations in Africa,
notes that some countries on the
continent “have the minimum to
start with – they’re not starting from
“We know how fragile the health
system is on the African continent
and these systems are already over-
whelmed by many ongoing disease
outbreaks, so for us it is critical to
detect earlier so that we can prevent
What facilities are there at the
moment to treat it?
Until recently, there were only
two laboratories in Africa – one in
Senegal and the other in South Afri-
ca – which had the reagents needed
to test samples. They have been
working as referral laboratories for
countries around the region.
One of the laboratories, Institut
Pasteur de Dakar, in Senegal has
long been on the front line in med-
ical innovation in Africa, including
in yellow fever research.
Ghana, Madagascar, Nigeria and
Sierra Leone have announced they
can also conduct tests.
The WHO is also sending kits to
29 laboratories on the continent
to ensure they have the capacity to
deal with the virus and also help
test samples from other countries if
However it’s hoped that by later
this month at least 36 African coun-
tries will be equipped to carry out
tests specific to the coronavirus.
The ability of African nations to
properly diagnose cases “depends
on the new reagents being made
available from China and Europe,”
says Dr Yao.
The Nigerian Red Cross Society
says it has placed one million volun-
teers on alert. Its Secretary General
Abubakar Ahmed Kende said the
measure was to prevent the possible
spread of the virus into the coun-
try and also contain the spiralling
outbreak of Lassa fever across the
In Tanzania, Health Minister
Ummy Mwalimu announced that
isolation centres in the north, east
and west of the country had been
identified. Thermometers have been
stockpiled and more than 2,000
health workers have been trained.
Several countries including Kenya,
Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Ghana and
Botswana have dealt with suspected
cases, placing them in quarantine
while tests were carried out. So far,
all have tested negative for the virus.
Uganda’s health ministry con-
firmed it had quarantined more
than 100 people who have arrived
at Entebbe International Airport.
Some of the people have been quar-
antined at two hospitals in Entebbe
and Kampala, while others have
been asked to stay in their homes.
Culled from BBC