Opening statement, COVID-19 Press Conference, 23 April 2020

Submitted by on Thu, 23/04/2020 - 15:25

Remarks by WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti

Good afternoon and thank you to everyone for having joined us today.

I’m very pleased really to be joined by colleagues from the Presidential Task Force for COVID-19 and the Centres for Disease Control in Nigeria. In Nigeria, we are seeing strong leadership, private sector partnerships, and scaling-up the key public health measures, and I’m sure Drs Aliyu and Ihekweazu will share more on their progress, priorities and challenges today.

On the African continent there are now more than 25 000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 1200 people unfortunately have lost their lives.

South Africa remains the most affected country, with 3300 cases but they are starting to see a bending of the curve with some of the measures that they have put in place. There are concerning increases in some countries in West Africa and also in Tanzania.

Active case finding, and tracing and isolating all contacts, along with physical distancing and hygiene measures, remain the key interventions to stop this virus.

We are concerned that in some settings physical distancing measures are preventing people from accessing life-saving health services. Even in times of lockdown, these essential services must be continued.

Tomorrow, is the start of African Vaccination Week, and on Saturday we commemorate World Malaria Day. These are two reminders of the importance of essential health services.

In 2018, there were 213 million malaria cases and 360 000 related deaths in the African Region – accounting for over 90% of the global burden.

With partners, we are studying the potential impacts of COVID-19 on the malaria situation. A recent analysis has found that if insecticide treated bed net distribution stops and case management reduces, malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa could double in comparison to 2018. This would be a highest number of deaths seen in the Region since the year 2000. 

So, I urge and encourage all countries to maintain malaria interventions, in line with WHO recommendations to ensure that health workers and communities are protected.

We saw with the Ebola virus disease outbreak in West Africa that we actually lost more people to diseases that we previously were managing to control, like malaria, than we lost to the outbreak itself. Let us not repeat that again with COVID-19.

Despite progress on immunisation, still one in four African children are under-immunised. To protect communities from diseases like measles, polio and yellow fever, it is imperative that routine immunization continues. Immunisation campaigns may need to be postponed because of challenges with physical distancing and countries will need to rapidly and safely scale-up these activities once COVID-19 transmission is contained.

So, whether we are fighting COVID-19, malaria or vaccine-preventable diseases, community empowerment is essential, and we are working with our colleagues in UNICEF, the Red Cross and other civil society groups to ensure individuals have the information and the resources to protect themselves and their families.

And I’ll close, since the holy month of Ramadan is starting today, I would like to wish all Muslims “Ramadan kareem”.

Thank you.