Ivory Coast has now reported 140 COVID-19 cases (as of 29 March, the WHO reports) and recently entered the local transmission process. According to the medical humanitarian agency Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) which has been supporting the country’s preparation measures for more than two weeks, the Ivoirian authorities, as in most neighbouring countries, rapidly took action to limit travel.
Increased surveillance has been in effect for several days at travel points and airports in the region. MSF helped the Ministry of Health at a transit centre in Abidjan by screening people with COVID-19 symptoms to a health centre. Over four days, 800 passengers from Europe, Asia, and the United States were treated by an MSF doctor and two nurses. The team has also set up a program of hygiene and has advised passengers about the need for self-containment and measures to be taken at home to reduce the risk of transmission.
MSF teams also have an assessment of local capacity to handle COVID-19 cases in Bouaké, the second-largest city in the world. The limited availability of testing on the Ivory Coast is a significant obstacle to rapid response, but in recent days some suspected cases have been tested in this region.
“Bouaké lies at the northern road linking Burkina Faso and Mali,” said MSF executive director for Western and Central Africa in Abidjan, Abdoul-Aziz Mohamed. “The current development of the Burkina Faso situation makes it important that there is a presence so, as to be able to respond quickly if a case is reported, rapidly cutting the transmission chain. To do so, it is crucial to plan for case management, to ensure the safety of health workers but, above all, to invest in increasing public awareness.” In Bouaké, water and sanitation activities are also being implemented, handwashing points are being built in six health centres and in the University Hospital. In the coming days, 10 beds will be built for the treatment of potential patients. An additional series of training courses are also designed for health workers in Bouaké and Abidjan to educate medical staff on preventive measures and case management.
The goal of MSF was to sustain its current medical operations as far as possible and to co-ordinate it with local health authorities to provide preventive support and case management support in countries where MSF operates. MSF is in discussion with health authorities and the WHO in certain parts of Western Africa, especially Senegal and Burkina Faso, to support the response.
Mohamed warns that prevention in West Africa, such as restrictions on travel and supplies, may have detrimental consequences in areas already affected by armed conflict and the population displacement, on health and humanitarian conditions.
“While we agree that these steps now are necessary in order to avoid the spread of coronavirus, they would possibly worsen in the long run, the challenges in accessing health care for people already in vulnerable situations,” he said. “They would also reduce the ability of health systems in response to the multiple killer diseases that have already occurred in the region, primarily due to a shortage of pharmaceutical supplies because over half of all supplies on the continent are imported.
Data Source: Médecins sans frontières (MSF)