South African Development Group Ministers of Health (SADC) agreed to harmonize and organize efforts in the region to respond to COVID-19. South Africa–a member of SADC–confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on 5 March, the first and only Southern African country to do so. Since COVID-19 was declared a public health emergency of international concern in February, the level of country preparedness in the WHO African region has been self-assessed. In order to increase the rigor and reliability of the self-assessment process, SADC Health Ministers have agreed to submit the results of their surveys to peer review. These survey results shape the response planning of the Member States and the assistance they receive from the World Health Organization (WHO).
“We agree that although only one country in the SADC region reported confirmed cases of COVID-19, SADC countries will switch to response mode,” said Dr. Stragomena Tax, SADC Secretary General. “Member States need to set up peer review mechanisms to validate self-assessment reports on preparedness and requested national cooperation partners through WHO and Africa Centers for Disease Control to support Member States in the development and implementation of country plans.” The level of preparedness varies considerably between SADC countries, and WHO works with Member States to address this issue.
“The shared problem is a halved problem. SADC countries need to share as much capacity as possible–nationally and regionally, “said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “As we have seen with other health emergencies, there is a great deal of expertise in the region. If countries have capacity in a particular area, they can support their neighbors. “Ten of the 16 SADC Member States also agreed to share information on the outbreak of COVID-19. “We have re-established and extended the terms of reference for the Technical Committee responsible for coordinating and monitoring the implementation of the SADC Protocol on Health, which includes Directors of Public Health and Directors of Medical Services,” said Ummy Mwalimu, Minister of Health of Tanzania, who chaired the meeting. The attending ministers also agreed to suspend regional face-to-face meetings in favor of internet-based conferences.
Dr Devanand Moonasar, Acting Chief Director for Communicable Diseases at the National Health Department of South Africa, said China’s unified approach was a valuable lesson for Africa, particularly in terms of value for skilled workers, dedicated resources and efficient and transparent data reporting and sharing practices. “I think China’s efforts to reduce the numbers in the way they did are quite remarkable and should be praised,” said Dr. Moonasar.
While high-level coordination is vital to an effective response to COVID-19, simple, day-to-day action is also essential. These include regular hand washing with soap and water; coughing or sneezing in the tissue or the bent elbow, ensuring that the tissue is safely disposed of afterwards; maintaining a social distance of at least one meter, especially if the person coughs; avoiding touching the eyes, nose and mouth; and early medical attention if the person develops a fever or cough.
Data Source: WHO Regional Office for Africa and APO