Ethiopia stepping up readiness for coronavirus disease outbreak
Addis Ababa, 17 February 2019 – Home to one of Africa’s busiest international airline hubs, Ethiopia is bolstering preparedness to contain a potential outbreak of coronavirus disease, now known as COVID-19. Health authorities are tightening up surveillance, diagnosis, epidemic response coordination and public health education to swiftly detect cases and limit widespread infections. Ethiopia is among 13 African countries the World Health Organization (WHO) considers as top priority for COVID-19 preparedness due to direct links or a high volume of travel to China.
The Egyptian Ministry of Health and Population has confirmed the first case of NOVID-19 in Africa to WHO. While there have been no confirmed cases reported in sub-Saharan Africa, the WHO Regional Office for Africa continues to strengthen its support to countries to detect and manage suspect cases and ensure a robust response.
“We are working hard day and night with the government to improve the critical measures needed to ensure that the country is ready to effectively respond to an outbreak of COVID-19. We have shipped in equipment for infection prevention and control and are supporting the training of health officials,” said Dr Boureima Sambo Hama, WHO representative in Ethiopia. “As we speak, with the strong support of WHO, response systems are close to being right up to standard, Ethiopia is taking the right steps and we are rallying our efforts to ensure we can detect the virus and respond in time.”
Since January, there have been numerous alerts for coronavirus disease reported in Ethiopia but after investigation, including the testing of suspect cases, no case has been confirmed in the country. More than 1,800 passengers with travel history to China have been screened. The country’s main international airport in the capital Addis Ababa is the third busiest in Africa. The national flag carrier, Ethiopian Airlines flies 35 times a week to China, but not to Wuhan city in Hubei province, the epicentre of the ongoing coronavirus epidemic. Zewdu Assefa, the manager of the Emergency Response Centre at the Addis Ababa-based Ethiopian Public Health Institute, explained that strengthening epidemic response coordination, enhancing surveillance through screenings at the country’s international airports and land borders were some of the main elements of coronavirus preparedness. Ethiopia has four international airports and 21 land border crossing points.
In addition, an isolation centre is being set up and more equipment and supplies needed to prevent and control a potential outbreak were also being procured with the help of WHO, said Mr Zewdu. “We have also designated different treatment centres and mapped hospitals in preparation.” “With the nature of this virus you need additional capacity in terms of supplies for infection prevention and control materials. We are facing challenges in that regard,” Zewdu said. Ethiopia’s National Influenza and Arbovirus Laboratory can now test for coronavirus. WHO has shipped reagent kits for coronavirus diagnosis to more than 20 countries in Africa to step up diagnosis of the virus and is working closely with countries to help them prepare for the rapid detection and response to cases or clusters.
The health authorities in Ethiopia have trained 60 rapid response team members on coronavirus surveillance, medical care for patients, public health communication and countering misinformation and rumours. “We are working with our partners to achieve the (required) standard level of preparedness,” said Mr Zewdu, pointing out that the country’s previous preparedness efforts for influenza and Ebola outbreaks were paying off for coronavirus readiness. “We are not starting a new thing, but we are strengthening preparedness. We are also using the experience in EVD (Ebola virus disease) screening at the points of entry to strengthen screening for the new coronavirus.”