As the coronavirus continues to spread, and the world scrambles to respond, even as African students remain stranded in mainland China, three experts based in the United States on Wednesday provided some suggestions on how the African continent could be prepared ahead of time.
At least 492 people had died worldwide from the coronavirus as of Wednesday morning, with most of them in mainland China. More than 24,000 others have been infected.
Between Tuesday and Wednesday, at least 65 people were confirmed dead in China’s central Hubei province, where Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, is located.
Several people were being monitored in Africa with no confirmed case there as of Wednesday. However, African health experts and leaders were not taking things for granted, especially with the way the continent has become well connected to the rest of the world.
In addition, many African students were said to be stranded in China and may eventually land on the continent.
Ahead of time, three experts from the Center For Global Development (CGD) in the United States with years of experience in dealing with major health emergencies, including the 2014 Ebola outbreak, provided some suggestions to the African continent.
“Liberia under Ebola provides us with clear examples of how African countries, and countries with limited resources in general, can respond to this outbreak,” said Gyude Moore, a former senior Liberian official during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, and a visiting Fellow at CGD.
“Liberia is extremely poor, so looking to the African example in this case can be a good way for those who are struggling with scale to find ways to adapt to the coronavirus crisis.”
On the African students who are stranded in China, Moore said China’s relationship with Africa “was not just business-oriented, it’s human”.
“And what we’re seeing with the African students currently living under quarantine in Wuhan, and struggling between two governments on whether to stay or go, is an example of that. It is clear that most African embassies near Beijing do not have the wherewithal to provide assistance to the students who are spread across a vast country, so that responsibility has to fall on the Chinese government. I hope this does not get lost in what is clearly a difficult situation.”
According to Jeremy Konyndyk , aformer director of USAID’s Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance and a Senior Fellow at CGD, the coronavirus outbreak at a point where containment is increasingly unlikely.
“We need to be shifting to a long-term mitigation posture. There will have to be a shift in strategy, and accompanying public engagement to socialize people to how serious a risk this could pose domestically. If we see Wuhan-level spread in US cities it will overwhelm our health system here just as it has there. That will leave us with a “missing middle” in our pandemic preparedness toolkit – what to do in the period after health services are overwhelmed, but before the 1-2 years that will be needed to bring a new treatment or vaccine to scale.”
“Is what we’re seeing in China unique to China? Or is what we’re seeing there representative of what we will be seeing everywhere else in another 2-6 weeks? Most people suspect the latter, but we don’t know for sure – and the next few weeks will be pretty critical.”
To Amanda Glassman, a global health expert and Executive Vice President of CGD, “Depending on the locations of further spread, those responding to the novel coronavirus outbreak in countries outside of China may need to pivot from containment to care in the coming weeks”
“We are about a year or more until medical counter-measures, so we must collectively avoid politicizing this outbreak – it’s the characteristics of the virus, and not the quality of any particular government’s response that is affecting outcomes at this stage.”
“There is a huge burden on hospitals in Wuhan, and people who have other diseases and conditions may not get needed care because of potential crowding. Financing and preparation for that possible outcome is key.”