What should Europe learn from the African experience with previous outbreaks?

The African countries are called upon to act and prepare surveillance systems in order to avert the rapid spread of the virus as it happened in China. The question arises, “Is Africa prepared and equipped to deal with yet another outbreak of a highly infectious disease – COVID-19?”

by Adela Cazan and Dorisilda Killo

The African early response to the pandemic

African countries acted before there were any reported cases of COVID-19 on the continent. The rapid response helped with the reorganization of the WHO, which created the World Health Emergencies Programme; the formation of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Preventing; the funding of consortia like ONE-HUMAN-ANIMAL-HEALTH Africa-Europe research and the capacity development network PANDORA-ID-NET for dealing with emerging and possible re-emerging infections that might turn into an epidemic. 

The ONE-HEALTH network operates effectively and accurately in all Africa regions, working with national disease control and health institutes as well as international health agencies. This consortium led to an increase of communication and built up trust between the African governments, the PANDORA-ID-NET, and European public health workers and scientists.

Previous outbreak knowledge

Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash

The unfortunate circumstance of having to manage previous outbreaks is now an advantage for African countries. Not so long ago, Africa was battling the Ebola virus. During the epidemic, projects were developed to cover all related areas. “In 2017, the EU launched the EBO-SURSY project, which improves the Ebola virus disease detection in wildlife in African countries.” states Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Virginie Battu-Henriksson. In addition, through the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership, two research collaborative projects were launched in sub-Saharan Africa in 2018. (ALERRT and PANDORA-ID-NET).

Besides, one thing that Africa has previously dealt with was the lack of possibilities of diagnosing and testing. Dr. Emmanuel Musa, who was part of the medical and research team that wrote an article for The International Journal of Infectious Diseases about the response to the Lassa fever outbreak, mentioned the problem that occurred. “During the Ebola epidemic, an embargo was placed on the transportation of samples internationally. Therefore diagnostic capacity was severely compromised, as testing for Lassa fever was not available.”

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