Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) is a specialized technical institution of the African Union established to support public health initiatives of Member States and strengthen the capacity of their public health institutions to detect, prevent, control and respond quickly and effectively to disease threats. Africa CDC supports African Union Member States in providing coordinated and integrated solutions to the inadequacies in their public health infrastructure, human resource capacity, disease surveillance, laboratory diagnostics, and preparedness and response to health emergencies and disasters.
Established in January 2016 by the 26th Ordinary Assembly of Heads of State and Government and officially launched in January 2017, Africa CDC is guided by the principles of leadership, credibility, ownership, delegated authority, timely dissemination of information, and transparency in carrying out its day-to-day activities. The institution serves as a platform for Member States to share and exchange knowledge and lessons from public health interventions. Africa CDC Deputy Director, Dr. Ahmed E. Ogwell talked to Capital about his institutions activities and the current fight against covid 19. Excerpts;
Capital: How well are African countries prepared to respond to the covid 19 compared to the rest of the world?
Ahmed E. Ogwell: To respond to the covid 19 in a better way is to prepare. We did not compare ourselves with other parts of the world but I can share with you how we are prepared so that you can have a better understanding. The first thing we did when we got the information this virus has been identified in China is we started to develop the capacity of Africa CDC that we secured our health system health expertise and experiment that will enable us to respond.
The second thing is, we started doing capacity development at all the 55 identified African member states. We have been building their capacity in preparing for the arrival of the virus, we have been doing things starting from January up to now. If we see where Africa was in January and where Africa is today in terms of preparation to respond to this covid 19 pandemic we can say that we have improved our ability and we are now confident that we can quickly identify people who has the virus, we are able to quickly test them and has prepared quarantines and isolation centers depending on the laboratory result.
Although if we have compared to the other parts of the world and the number we can say Africa is doing something right. Because the number of the cases in the rest of the world are increasing very fast but the number in Africa is rising but not fast so it mean that we are doing something good and it is because of the preparation that we have made when the covid 19 was identified in China.
Capital: what are the main challenges facing Africa so far in the fight against the virus?
Ahmed: The challenges are several. The first main challenge is that our health system is weak that means our health experts are few, our hospitals are few also that we don’t have enough capacity to reach the community that are affected so one of the challenge is out health system. The second challenge is that the test kits that are used to test the Covid 19 are manufactured out of Africa and taking hold of them are becoming very difficult as every country wants the test kits so we have been working to find companies which can be able to work with us to be able to secure test kits for Africa.
The other challenge is the protective equipment that our health workers need. Most of the personal protective equipment like face mask, hand gloves and coverings that health workers use in the hospital are manufactured In Europe, China or America and because they also have the same disease they are not able to release to the world competitively. We need a lot of protective equipment.
The other challenge is resource. We need people to prepare, to prepare our hospitals, our health workers and to be able to communicate with the public resource are our challenge so we are trying to mobilize resources from governments, African countries and other parts of the world.
The final challenge I like to share is wrong information, there are so many rumors outside that is causing fear and panic to the public. We are trying very hard to identify the rumors and we are trying to provide the correct information to the public. But nevertheless wrong information has become a very big challenge in managing the covid 19.
Capital: There are some stories that Chinese made test kits failed in some parts of the world, how are you coping with this as most test kits in Africa came from China?
Ahmed: I think it is important to know as CDC Africa we have a protocol when we buy our test kits. We don’t go to the open market that you may be able to find test kits that would fail. We have our usual supplier that we have been working with from the beginning and all the test kits that are coming to Africa through Africa CDC are good in quality and no country is complaining that they have problems in our test kits. At a time like this when demand is very high and supply is very low we find somebody who will be going to that space with our standard and as African CDC and African Union we have suppliers we know who give good products and we don’t go to unverified supplier unless they are being verified and known.
Capital: How is the African CDC and African Union providing support?
Ahmed: The African Union and the African CDC are providing support to member states in several ways. One is we have develop a continental studies on covid 19 outbreak and we are using to support our member states. So all countries in Africa are aligned and using the study, the second thing we have is a platform for the African Union member states meet in two weeks and provide directives to us as African Union and Africa CDC. So every action that we take is as a group and this helped assuring that there are law measurement and guide. The third thing is the Ministries of Health, Finance and Transport in Africa are coordinating to the platform and are giving guidelines on the activities that we are doing.
Capital: How is the CDC Africa collaborating with the WHO and other international organizations?
Ahmed: Through the task force Africa CDC is coordinating and closely working with the WHO and other organizations such as the ILO, UNDP, UNICEF and other organizations. It is part of the task force over the mitigation of the covid 19. We are working closely with aligned plans.
Capital: What is the worst case scenario expected?
Ahmed: We are preparing for the current situation our planning our support and all our activities are for the current scenario. We did not give room for the worst scenario. We are doing everything we can to respond at this stage. We are not planning to any other scenario.
Capital: Locust swarm, malaria, polio and hunger are looming again in Africa do you have any plans to tackle these?
Ahmed: In fact we are talking a lot about covid that the reality is all other disease are still popping up in the continent. In Africa CDC we have been working with our member states to respond on the other diseases to ensure that the health system still remains functional to address the diseases and covid is providing special case by identifying specific cases while the rest of the health system continue to functional and to address all the other diseases.
Lastly I have two comments. One is that the response is going to be effective when member of the public get correct information and following government directions. This discipline is the one that is going to ensure the number of the case in Africa to remain low. The second thing I have is that we have to protect our health workers because they are the ones who are looking after the patients who have the virus. So we have to make sure that we give them the correct motivation to continue to work.