The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday said it has suspended testing for hydroxyclhoroquine in COVID-19 patients over safety concerns and warned Africa not be complacent because it has only 1.5 percent of coronavirus infections and less than 0.1 percent of world’s deaths.
“The executive group has implemented a temporary pause of the hydroxyclhoroquine arm within the Solidarity trial while the safety data is reviewed by the data safety monitoring board,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director General, told a press briefing on Monday. He said the other arms of the trial were continuing.
President Donald Trump has been touting hydroxyclhoroquine as a possible treatment for COVID-19 despite warnings from health experts that there was no evidence that was the case.
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Dr Matshidiso Moeti, from Botswana, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, called on African leaders to continue to expand surveillance, contact tracing, testing, isolation and treatment of COVID-19 patients, arguing now was not the time to be complacent.
Dr Matshidiso explained that the fewer number of cases in Sub-Saharan Africa were a result of combination of factors, including social distancing measures, lockdowns and shutdowns imposed by African governments, surveillance, testing, contact tracing, isolation and treatment.
She said although very little is known about the respiratory disease, but it was unlikely that the fewer number of cases has anything to do with malaria.
She was speaking at the WHO regular press conference broadcast from Geneva, Switzerland where she joined Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director General, Dr. Michael Ryan, the Executive Director, WHO Health Emergencies Program, Dr. Maria D. Van Kerkhove, the 43-year old American infectious disease epidemiologist and WHO Technical Lead, Dr. John Nkengasong, Director of Africa CDC as well as Professor Samba Sow, Director-General of the Center for Vaccine Development in Mali and former Minister of Health of Mali and a WHO Special Envoy with a particular focus on supporting West African communities and countries.
Health experts were invited to the highly watched press briefing as the continent marked Africa Day, the birth of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa 57 years ago on May 25, 1963.
“Today is Africa Day – an opportunity to celebrate Africa’s vitality and diversity, and to promote African unity. Africa Day celebrates the birthday of the Organization of African Unity, which was established on May 25th, 1963 – 57 years ago – and its successor organization is the African Union, which was established in 2002. Today, on Africa Day 2020, we mark the successes and progress made throughout the African continent,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus who is simply known as Dr. Tedros.
“This year, celebrations are more muted because of the COVID-19 pandemic. So far, although around half of the countries in the region have community transmission, concentrated mainly in major cities, Africa is the least-affected region globally in terms of the number of cases and deaths reported to WHO.
“Africa has just 1.5 percent of the world’s reported cases of COVID-19, and less than 0.1 percent of the world’s deaths. Of course, these numbers don’t paint the full picture.
“Testing capacity in Africa is still being ramped up and there is a likelihood that some cases may be missed.
“But even so, Africa appears to have so far been spared the scale of outbreaks we have seen in other regions,” he added.
The fewer number of cases he said could be explained by many factors. “The early set-up of a leaders coalition led by the African Union, under the chairmanship of President Ramaphosa of South Africa were key to rapidly accelerating preparedness efforts and issuing comprehensive control measures.
“Countries across Africa have garnered a great deal of experience from tackling infectious diseases like polio, measles, Ebola, yellow fever, influenza and many more.
“Africa’s knowledge and experience of suppressing infectious diseases has been critical to rapidly scaling up an agile response to COVID-19.
“There has been solidarity across the continent. Labs in Senegal and South Africa were some of the first in the world to implement COVID-19 diagnostic testing.
“And beyond that they worked together with Africa CDC and WHO to extend training for laboratory technicians for detection of COVID-19 and to build up the national capacity across the region.
“Furthermore, health clinicians, scientists, researchers and academics from across Africa are collectively contributing to the worldwide understanding of COVID-19 disease,” Dr. Tedros said.
He said for many years and from the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, WHO has been working through our country offices to support nations in health emergency preparedness and developing comprehensive national action plans to prevent, detect and respond to the virus.
“With WHO support, many African countries have made good progress in preparedness.
“All countries in Africa now have a preparedness and response plan in place, compared with less than a dozen in the first few weeks of the pandemic.
“48 countries in the region have a community engagement plan in place, compared with only 25 countries 10 weeks ago.
“And 51 have lab-testing capacity for COVID-19, compared with 40 countries 10 weeks ago.
“WHO continues to support Africa with other life-saving supplies.
“As of last week, we have shipping millions of personal protective equipment and lab tests to 52 African countries.
“In the coming weeks we plan further shipments of PPE, oxygen concentrators and lab tests.
“However, we still see gaps and vulnerabilities. Only 19% of countries in the region have an infection prevention and control programme and standards for water, sanitation and hygiene in health facilities.
“And disruption to essential health services, such as vaccination campaigns and care for malaria, HIV and other diseases pose a huge risk,” he added.