The World Health Organisation (WHO) has expressed concern that border closure by countries might slow down the treatment of coronavirus patients and containment of the virus.
WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said this, on Thursday, during a World Health Organisation (WHO) online media briefing.
While speaking at the briefing that was moderated by Adrian Monck, Managing Director, World Economic Forum, Dr. Moeti said while countries had the right to take measures to protect their citizens from coronavirus including closing their borders, they should not hinder the movement of “medicines, test kits and other commodities that are needed as well as the movement of those people who are needed to provide support to countries including our staff from WHO and people from other agencies who really need to get into other countries to offer help.”
According to her: “We have observed a raft of measures including border closures by countries in our region as well as other regions, while at the same time we are learning a lot about the economic impact at the global level and also we are expecting to see the economic impacts of these barriers being placed in the way of goods, people and money moving within countries in trades. This is a big concern.
“We are encouraging countries to take measures that would isolate the virus and isolate people who might have the virus and really minimise isolation of countries unless it is absolutely necessary while at the same time putting in place very strong measures of identifying those who are infected contact tracing so that we can limit the spread of the virus. This is a concern. But we are concerned as well about the impact of such measures on the ability to move some of the goods around that directly contribute to the control, containment, care and treatment of people who are affected by this outbreak. We are also concerned about the effect of this on other basic social services.”
She added that while it is important to restrict movement which might result in shutting borders, it is important to create a special corridor that would allow the movement of certain people and essential putting an end to the outbreak.
Giving an insight into the slow spread of coronavirus in Africa, she said: “It is a new virus whose behaviour, we are still trying to understand. But we have noted that in African countries just as it is in South American countries, there has been a spread but not the same as we have seen in other places. So, we are trying to understand if this could be related to the temperature or weather. Certainly, we know in the past from influenza data that we have distinct flu seasons, particularly in the southern part of the continent and in some East African countries. So, we may from this infer that perhaps in a couple of months when the winter sets in we may see an increase in the rate of transmission of this virus. We are looking at this, looking at data in the past, looking at seasonal patterns and trying to anticipate what we might expect. We don’t have information for this particular virus because it is a new virus. Which has largely been spreading in the north and now we need to understand and anticipate how it might behave in African settings.”
Dr Matshidiso Moeti also said there had been no proof of chloroquine’s effectiveness in treating the disease. According to her: “We are aware of some trials of the use of chloroquine in dealing with some previous coronaviruses, not this virus. We are not aware of any evidence that demonstrates that this is one of the medicines that could be used but we can find out some more information about that. There is a number of ongoing trials of other medicines and we are awaiting the outcomes of those observations. But for now, we are not aware of any conclusive evidence to show that chloroquine could be effective in treating this virus.”
The WHO Regional Director for Africa, who was joined by Dr Lucile Imboua-Niava, WHO Representative for Senegal and Dr Owen Kaluwa, WHO Representative for South Africa, at the briefing, while explaining why social distancing as a strategy to prevent the spread of the disease might not succeed in Africa, said: “The socio-economic circumstances of many African people particularly in urban areas make social distancing the way it is being recommended quite a challenge in Africa. Sometimes, families live in houses where you don’t have a bedroom for every family member. Very often family members have to sit in the same space and sleep in the same space. Sometimes families live in houses where there is no water, so the possibility of observing hand washing frequently is a challenge in such circumstances.
“We are recommending approaches that are adoptable to these circumstances, for example working with governments and partners to make sanitizers available to people in health facilities and also in families. We need to think about what it means to observe social distancing in circumstances where people live in crowded conditions. We are thinking differently about the use of masks. We will need to adapt to the extent possible the principle of not infecting one another either by droplets when people cough or sneeze and also from hands by keeping hands clean and also communicating with people about these measures that they need to take. We are aware of the challenges and looking for ways to innovate around them. I think the use of sanitizers, getting the word out to the people, making sure that we consider and have access to masks where they may be used in slightly different ways.”
While answering a question on how African countries would raise the fund to finance coronavirus treatment, she said the World Bank had promised to make available about $12 billion just like the African Development Bank and the European Union have also offered assistance to countries. She, however, noted that countries have to come up with their plans which the WHO, working with partners, would access to see how financing could be sourced. She added that African governments must also be ready to provide local financing.