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WHO sends experts to South Africa to help fight pandemic

Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a news conference after a meeting of the Emergency Committee on the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in Geneva, Switzerland January 30, 2020. REUTERS

The World Health Organisation has deployed a team of health experts to South Africa to assist the country contain the coronavirus pandemic.

South Africa has the highest caseload in the Africa and is fifth in the world with 521,318 confirmed coronavirus cases and 8,884 Covid-19 deaths, according to the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention (AfricaCDC).

Studies of excess mortality rates indicate the actual toll could be higher.

The WHO, Africa region office announced that a team of 43 experts from various fields to support the Covid-19 outbreak response management. The first 17 health expects will arrive today and include key expertise in epidemiology, surveillance, case management, infection, prevention and control, procurement, as well as community mobilization and health education.

The surge team will be jointly led by Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa and Dr Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme. They will work virtually from Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo and Geneva, Switzerland respectively to support the experts on the ground.

According to WHO, the deployments have emanated from continued discussions between the Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, and WHO global and regional leadership.

“At this time when the Covid-19 epidemic in South Africa is spreading rapidly, it is important that we work together to intensify our fight against the virus,” said Dr Owen Kaluwa, WHO Representative for South Africa.

He added: “For this reason, WHO is ramping up support to complement national and provincial efforts to scale-up the response. Our collective efforts are necessary to identify cases, isolate and provide care, follow up contacts and fully implement physical distancing and other key public health measures. In this way we will minimise the spread and impact of Covid-19.”

The rapid spread of infections in poor, overcrowded urban centers in Cape Town, Johannesburg and other cities threatened to overwhelm public hospitals.

Among the team is Dr David Heymann, a seasoned infectious disease epidemiologist and public health expert, who headed the response to the SARS epidemic in 2003, while an Assistant Director-General for Health Security and Environment at WHO.

South Africa is currently the first epicenter for Covid-19 in Africa, with health experts warning that the rest of the continent may see a similar spread of the disease.

More than 24,000 health care workers have been infected by the coronavirus, with 181 deaths, said Dr Mkhize, noting that they account for five of the country’s total infections, lower than the global average of 10 per cent.

The country also has one of the continent’s most advanced health care systems and other countries may not cope as well.

The WHO delegation will be required to complete an initial period of quarantine and testing before being cleared for deployment in the country.

They will be initiated into the current national health efforts and informed on how the National Department of Health is supporting provincial Covid-19 programmes.

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